An audit conducted by the Bureau of State Audits last October slammed the California Department of Justice and the courts for failing to identify thousands of mentally ill people who shouldn’t have access to firearms, reported the Sacramento Bee.
The audit revealed that 34 out of 58 county Superior Courts failed to file at least 2,300 prohibited person reports to the Department of Justice’s mental health unit from 2010-2012. The actual number of unfiled reports may even be higher because of under-reporting, according to the audit.
Legislation by lawmakers early last year appropriated $24 million to the department to reduce the backlog of cases of prohibited individuals possessing guns. That number was nearly 21,000 in July 2013. The audit cautioned that public security is jeopardized by the failure of authorities to gather and process prohibited person reports from the courts and mental health institutions.
“It is critical that justice improve its outreach and internal processes so its agents can better protect the public from armed prohibited persons,” the audit said, requesting the Justice Department to increase its outreach and for lawmakers to mandate that reports be filed within 24 hours on all mental health-related prohibited persons.
The Armed Prohibited Persons System, which logs people who cannot purchase or possess a gun, is supposed to receive these reports following a court’s finding that a mentally ill person poses a danger to others.
Court officials in the majority of the 34 laggard counties said they were not aware of the filing requirements and accused the Justice Department of failing to remind them or mental-health facilities. The audit also found the Justice Department has struggled to process the reports it does receive.
Stephen J. Lindley, chief of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms, said it agrees with the audit’s recommendations and plans to communicate more with the courts and other entities required to file the reports.
The Administration Office of the Courts said, however, opposed the audit’s recommendation for legislation requiring the courts to file prohibited-person reports within 24 hours. Current law requires the reports “immediately.” (A law to extend the time to two court workdays took effect in early 2014.)
“It is critical that justice improve its
outreach and internal processes so its
agents can better protect the
public from armed prohibited persons”
“Given the unprecedented budget cuts to the judicial branch, limited business hours and staff, and other resource issues, the shorter deadline is not recommended,” said Stephen Jahr, the administrative director of the courts. Nevertheless, auditors stood by their recommendation, calling the suggested change “important to public safety.”
A statement by Assemblymen Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) said the report “confirmed our worst fears — that information about individuals who should be on the list of armed prohibited persons is not being fully reported and is not being reported immediately as required by law.”