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Domestic Violence and Firearms (2011)

Domestic Violence and Firearms: A Model Protocol

FirearmsExecutive Summary

The purpose of this project was to develop a model policy for Rhode Island’s law enforcement agencies to use when responding to domestic violence calls involving firearms. This document is intended to provide insight to police officers, the judicial system and advocates about the shared and differing practices that law enforcement officers use in these types of cases. In addition, this report will provide recommendations for the purpose of improving the response to domestic abuse calls involving weapons.

Graduate students from Salve Regina University’s Criminal Justice Program conducted a statewide survey of local law enforcement agencies and the Rhode Island State Police. The research team used three data collection methods:

  • Surveying local law enforcement agencies to determine their current practices and protocols when responding to domestic violence calls involving firearms
  • Conducting three key informant interviews to gain further insight on the issue from state and federal perspectives
  • Reviewing and analyzing state and federal laws relating to firearms and domestic violence

The interviews revealed that nearly all of Rhode Island’s law enforcement agencies have common practices for assessing the presence of weapons at a scene and for the removal of firearms when an incident results in an arrest or when a protective order exists. However, according to the survey results, the practices among police departments differ when they encounter non-arrest situations. This occurs when there is no probable cause for arrest or when there is a question regarding the existence of a valid restraining order. Under these circumstances, police departments utilize an assortment of practices to determine if firearm seizure is warranted. In addition, the research team concluded that law enforcement officers have different interpretations of Rhode Island General Law §15-15-3 (5) and that the statewide database, RONCO (Restraining Orders No Contact Orders), is not a reliable tool to validate the existence of a restraining order or no contact order.

After reviewing the results of the survey, key informant interviews, state and federal laws, and policies from other jurisdictions, the Firearms and Domestic Violence Task Force (FADVTF) proposes the following recommendations:

Legislative Recommendations

  • Prohibit the possession of firearms by a “third party” residing in the same household or building as the defendant

Recommendations for Law Enforcement Agencies

  • Conduct follow up investigations whenever the defendant does not surrender the firearms in compliance with a restraining order
  • Revoke any existing gun license and forward the information to the office of Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Division Counsel as federal law prohibits possession of firearms by anyone convicted of a domestic violence related offense
  • Develop, create and distribute a model uniform policy for police response to domestic violence calls involving firearms (see “Model Law Enforcement Policy” on page 11)

Training Recommendations

  • Address RONCO data entry issues to improve accuracy and timeliness of information
  • Educate “third parties” who agree to take possession of firearms, for the defendant when he/she is not legally able to possess a weapon, on their obligations under state and federal law and prosecute those who fail to comply
  • Offer key stakeholders training on firearm laws

pdfDomestic Violence and Firearms: A Model Protocol