Mentally ill -- and armed
October 29, 2013
• California does little about it
• Nearly 21,000 may be armed, even though weapons were supposed to be confiscated
While mental illness does not equate withy violence in every case, there could be nearly 21,000 people in California armed with deadly weapons that the state was supposed to have confiscated because of their mental illnesses, a new report says.
There’s insufficient outreach from the state Department of Justice and poor reporting from superior courts, leading to limits on the Identification of armed persons with mental illness, says the report Tuesday from California’s top watchdog, state Auditor Elaine Howle.
The Department of Justice has not sufficiently reached out to the superior courts or to mental health facilities to remind them to promptly report required information and cannot identify all armed prohibited persons in California effectively, the report says.
In addition, Ms. Howle‘s investigation reveals that many courts were not aware of state law requiring them to report individuals to Justice when the courts make certain mental health determinations. “The 34 courts we surveyed indicated they had not reported about 2,300 of these determinations collectively over a three-year period,” the auditor says.
None of the three courts visited by state auditor investigators fully complied with state law because they failed to report all of their required determinations, such as those that determined that individuals were mentally incompetent to stand trial or those deemed a danger to others, says the report.
“We identified 22 mental health facilities that Justice had not contacted about reporting requirements,” it says.
One reason might be workload.
The Department of Justice has at times had a daily backlog of cases waiting for initial review that exceeded the informal cap of 1,200 cases.
“There is a lack of supervisory review, and three of the eight decisions regarding armed prohibited person status we reviewed were incorrect,” the report says.
Justice reported that more than 20,800 persons were still deemed to be “armed prohibited persons” as of July, and these persons had not had their firearms confiscated, says the report.
The Department of Justice is supposed to manage California's effort to identify firearm owners in the state who are prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm because of a mental health-related event in their life. Justice refers to these individuals as armed prohibited persons.
Ms. Howle’s report makes specific recommendations, in its words:
• To ensure that it has the necessary information to identify armed prohibited persons with mental illness, Justice should at least once a year consider information about court reporting levels and request that courts it determines may be underreporting forward all required case information.
• To ensure that all required prohibited individuals are reported to Justice, the three courts we visited — Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Santa Clara — should ensure that they implement procedures to report all types of determinations that state law requires.
• The Legislature should amend state law to specify that all mental health-related prohibiting events must be reported to Justice within 24 hours regardless of the entity required to report.
• To ensure that it keeps an accurate and up-to-date list of all mental health facilities required to report individuals with mental illness, at least twice a year Justice should update its outreach list of mental health facilities, and as soon as it identifies mental health facilities that have not yet received information about reporting requirements, Justice should send these facilities this information.
• To ensure that timely information is available for its efforts to identify armed prohibited persons and confiscate their firearms, Justice should manage staff priorities to meet its internal deadline for initially reviewing potential prohibited persons.
• To ensure that it makes correct determinations about whether an individual is an armed prohibited person, Justice should implement quality control procedures, including supervisory review, over APPS unit staff determinations.
• To ensure that it processes all reports it receives about persons with mental illness, Justice's mental health unit should develop and implement quality control procedures, including periodic supervisory review of report entry to ensure that all reports are entered correctly into the mental health database. Additionally, it should conduct a supervisory review of all staff decisions to delete records from the database before their deletion.