Response to the Audit
The California Department of Justice
Elaine M. Howle, CPA
Bureau of State Audits
621 Capitol Mall, Suite 1200
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: BSA Report 2015-504
Dear Ms. Howle,
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reviewed the Bureau of State Audits’ (BSA) draft report titled “Follow-Up – Department of Justice: Delays in Fully Implementing Recommendations Prevent It From Accurately and Promptly Identifying All Armed Persons With Mental Health Illness, Resulting in Continued Risk to Public Safety” and appreciates the opportunity to respond to the report.
As stated in our initial response to BSA Report 2013-103 titled “Department of Justice - Mentally Ill Prohibited Persons,” we will start our response with a brief background of the Department’s Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS). In 1999, due to the proliferation of gang violence and mass shootings in both California and across the nation, DOJ began studying high profile shootings to identify ways to reduce the number of these violent events. The study revealed an important similarity in the cases—the shooter was often a law-abiding citizen when he or she purchased or acquired their firearm but subsequently became prohibited from possessing firearms due to a mental health determination, a criminal conviction, or becoming the subject of a restraining or protective order. DOJ soon realized that if it had the means (e.g., funding for personnel and database enhancements) and the legal authority to immediately determine whether persons who lawfully purchased firearms subsequently became prohibited from owning, the violence could be curtailed.
Accordingly, DOJ sponsored Senate Bill 950 (Brulte/Scott, 2001). This bill was ultimately signed into law and authorized DOJ to cross-reference its database of persons who own handguns as reflected in DOJ’s Consolidated Firearms Information System (CFIS) with its databases of persons who are prohibited by law from doing so. In 2003, DOJ obtained spending authority to build the APPS database. In November 2006, development was completed and the APPS database was implemented. California is the only state in the nation with a program like APPS. The APPS program allows the DOJ to take a proactive approach on the prevention of firearm violence.
At the time of implementation, APPS immediately identified approximately 6,800 armed and prohibited persons. Since that time, APPS has grown to approximately 21,000 armed and prohibited persons and DOJ has conducted nearly 11,000 investigations, resulting in the seizure of over 12,000 firearms and nearly 1 million rounds of ammunition from armed and prohibited persons throughout California.
APPS grows by approximately 3,000 persons per year, but California local law enforcement does not have sufficient resources to proactively locate and contact armed and prohibited persons. To address this problem, Attorney General Harris sponsored Senate Bill 819 in 2011 to fund increased enforcement efforts. After its enactment, Attorney General Harris ordered a series of sweeps that successfully took firearms out of the possession of persons prohibited due to their criminal histories or mental health. After the success of these sweeps, Attorney General Harris sought and received additional resources from the Legislature in July 2013, via Senate Bill 140, to hire 36 additional agents for the APPS program. This has enabled the DOJ to conduct 13,313 APPS investigations from July 1, 2013, to May 30, 2015, and reduced the APPS subject backlog from an estimated 28,000 subjects (if not for the additional resources acquired via SB 140) to 15,797 APPS subjects as of June 19, 2015. That is a net reduction of more than 12,000 subjects.
In response to the BSA’s specific recommendations identified in the report, DOJ submits the following responses:
CHAPTER 1 RECOMMENDATIONS:
To ensure that Justice fairly balances competing responsibilities and avoid redirecting APPS unit staff to conduct Dealers Record of Sale background checks, the Legislature should require Justice to complete an initial review of cases in the daily queue within seven days and periodically reassess whether Justice can complete these reviews more quickly.
DOJ agrees with this recommendation and looks forward to working with the Legislature on drafting language, identifying positions, funding, and information technology enhancements needed to achieve this goal.
To ensure that it accurately identifies all prohibited persons, Justice should implement its plan to develop a checklist by July 2015 and desk procedures by September 2015 to aid its analysts in making correct prohibition determinations.
The DOJ agrees with this recommendation, and is in the final stages of adopting desk procedures and a quick reference checklist that covers the complex aspects of determining if an individual is armed and prohibited. The DOJ estimates the quick reference checklist and desk procedures will be completed, reviewed, and adopted by late July and September 2015, respectively.
To ensure staff can promptly address the daily queue and the historical backlog, by July 2016, Justice should identify and implement strategies, including pursuing funding, to staff its BOF operations to the level it needs.
DOJ is committed to eliminating the APPS historical backlog by December 2016. As previously indicated, the DOJ has continued to monitor and respond to workload fluctuations impacting APPS processing. Additionally, the DOJ did establish realistic goals to complete the backlog by December 31, 2016. However, the unforeseen loss of analytical staff, and the continued high level of firearms sales have forced the DOJ to redirect staff to meet the legislative time frames associated with completing background checks on firearm purchases in California. The DOJ agrees with this recommendation and is currently in the process of implementing a strategy to temporarily redirect staff from other areas of the department to assist with the historical backlog and for adding analytical staffing resources to the BOF to meet workload demands, thereby eliminating the need to redirect staff away from the goal of eliminating the APPS historical backlog by December 31, 2016.
To fully implement our previous recommendation and ensure that it keeps an updated accurate list of all mental health facilities, by July 2015, Justice should implement supervisory review of its analyst’s comparisons of Justice’s mental health facilities list and Health Care Services’ list to ensure staff identified and corrected all discrepancies.
DOJ agrees with this recommendation and will continue notifying statewide mental health facilities of the state’s reporting requirements by working with Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to identify known mental health facilities operating within the state. Accordingly, the DOJ will continue its efforts in contacting DHCS and advocating that information about state mandated mental health facility reporting requirements be incorporated into the training materials and licensing conditions given to newly-licensed mental health facilities, as well as any information that is given to existing mental health facilities upon the renewal of their licenses, if applicable, by DHCS (who is the licensing authority). Finally, the DOJ will establish supervisory and management overview of analytical staff’s comparisons of mental health facility lists between DHCS and the DOJ to ensure we have identified all operating mental health facilities.
To fully implement our previous recommendation and ensure that it investigates all significant drops in mental health facility reporting, Justice should revise its procedure to consider drops between each quarter.
While DOJ cannot compel mental health facilities to submit mental health determinations they are statutorily required to provide the information (see Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 8103, subds. (f)(2)(B), (g)(2)(B), 8105, subd. (b)). The DOJ will continue to take the following steps to monitor and encourage the timely submission of mental health determinations: (1) Each quarter the DOJ will review each mental health facility’s monthly reports to determine possible underreporting; (2) The DOJ will immediately notify both DHCS and the applicable mental health facility of our findings regarding possible underreporting; (3) The DOJ will seek a timely explanation from DHCS and the applicable mental health facility about the suspected underreporting; (4) The DOJ will offer training to mental health facilities and their employees regarding the timely reporting of mental health determinations to DOJ; and (5) The DOJ will keep records of its communications with DHCS and the applicable mental health facility regarding the suspected underreporting.
DOJ will continue to evaluate its available resources to determine whether additional staffing will be needed to fully implement these recommendations.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on this draft audit report. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, you may contact me at the telephone number listed above.
STEPHEN J. LINDLEY, Chief
Bureau of Firearms
For KAMALA D. HARRIS
Nathan Barankin, Chief Deputy Attorney General
Venus Johnson, Associate Attorney General
Larry Wallace, Director, Division of Law Enforcement
Tammy Lopes, Director, Division of Administrative Support
Andrew Kraus, Director of the Office of Program Review and Audits
Martha Supernor, Assistant Bureau Chief, Bureau of Firearms
Allison Mendoza, Assistant Bureau Chief, Bureau of Firearms
Robert Wilson, Deputy Attorney General, Bureau of Firearms