What Authorities Near Parkland Learned About Red Flag Laws

(NewsNation) – Following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the state enacted a “red flag law.”

Under these laws, courts can issue what are called Risk Protection Orders (RPOs) that prevent people showing signs of violent intent from possessing firearms for a period of time.

One of the Florida counties that has used this law most confidently is Broward County, where the Parkland shooting took place.

NewsNation spoke with Deputy General Counsel Ksenia Vance, the county official responsible for reviewing law enforcement RPO requests and sending them to court, to discuss the lessons they learned.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NewsNation: Have the judges generally granted (your RPO requests)?

Vanced: Not all risk protection orders submitted are filed. For example, since the law was passed… from March 9, 2018 to March 31 of this year, our agency assistants filed 709 RPO requests. We filed, out of these 709 requests, 376, but we refused to file 333. … So, a little less than half are refused. They are therefore not all classified. It’s something that we, you know, consider many factors before deciding whether or not it’s legally sufficient and justified.

NewsNation: What are some of these factors that you might consider?

Vanced: The court has several factors that it can take into consideration on a statutory basis. Some of these factors may be that the individual suffers from mental health disorders, may suffer from mental health disorders. Many times we come into contact with individuals, they are clearly having some sort of nervous breakdown. …

If the individual has been Baker Acted. If the individual suffers from controlled drug addiction or alcohol abuse. Whether the individual has in the past or is currently in breach of a risk protection order. If the individual showed or used a firearm recklessly. If the individual has threatened to use a weapon against another individual. If the individual has threatened to commit an act of violence. If the individual has currently been arrested for a crime of violence. These are just a few of the factors considered when making this decision.

NewsNation: One of the things that is said about red flag laws is that it’s very important to have people who actually notice red flags – to have good reports of signs that may end up lead to an RPO. What is Broward County doing to make sure they find these flags compared to other places in the country that may have these laws but don’t use them as much?

Vanced: I think it’s just to educate our law enforcement officers. I can tell you that it often happens, especially at the very beginning, when it comes to a brand new law, that not everyone knows the law very well. So, for example, a police officer may answer a call and try to conduct a criminal investigation based on the facts, but simply based on a lack of experience or knowledge, he tries to investigate in a way whereas an RPO can be something that can also help.

For example, in our national cases…when they go through the court system, a very large percentage of them end up being dropped. … In these kinds of cases, even if there’s a criminal case pending, when I get the case, I’m more likely to file a risk protection order because of my experience, and I know that ‘there is a good chance that the criminal the case may not go through.

NewsNation: As these laws have been debated nationwide, many people have raised civil liberties concerns about people being stripped of their rights even though they have not been charged with anything. How does Broward County handle civil liberties issues in these cases?

Vanced: So one of the big misconceptions with red flag laws is that someone’s due process rights can be violated and someone’s civil liberties can be taken away just because an ex-wife despised can come and make a report to the police, then we leave and take our civil liberties. … It’s not that easy. It goes through several stages before you even get to the point of filing a risk protection order. …And again, it’s not permanent. … According to the law, the maximum period for which it can be imposed is 12 months. So even if the judge grants the final (the order), it will be in place for 12 months.

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