Suffolk County leads New York in use of 'red flag' warnings to prevent gun violence

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Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Suffolk County leads NY in use of 'red flag' warnings
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New York's 'red flag' laws are a tool that police in Suffolk County have utilized in their fight to suppress gun violence.

SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- The debate over gun control laws continues in the U.S., but in Suffolk County, police are using the state's "red flag" laws more effectively than any other county in New York.

"I think done correctly, it's a very useful tool," Geraldine Hart said.

A tool that police in Suffolk County have certainly utilized is the state's "red flag" law. It was widened on Monday by Governor Kathy Hochul.

It enables law enforcement, school officials, parents, and now health care workers, to alert authorities in New York, if someone has threatened to use firearms in a way that would harm themselves or the general public.

A judge can then order those guns taken away.

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Geraldine Hart, the former police commissioner in Suffolk County, who took over only a few months after the mass shooting in Parkland, is now public safety director at Hofstra University, and is reflecting on what she describes as a policy that was carefully thought out.

"My understanding is, we had used it about 160 times during my time there, so it was definitely a tool that we availed ourselves of, certainly," Hart said.

In fact, according to court data, Suffolk County is about five times more likely to enforce the red flag law over other populated counties. But in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, It hasn't been enforced yet at all.

While it is tough to quantify tragedies you've prevented, in Suffolk County, Hart believes it certainly worked, recalling one case in particular involving a student as young as 14.

"Talking extensively about guns and guns that were available in the house and writing about it," Hart said. "And I have to say in that instance the parents were brought before the judge and the judge said, 'listen, this is not ok'."

That's something that never happened last month in Buffalo. Still, some in the legal community worry the laws are ripe for abuse.

"We represented a college student who sent a text to a friend after his grandmother died and he was sad," attorney Peter Tilem said. "And ultimately that led to police breaking down his door, taking his guns away."

That's one reason why the debate continues to divide Congress, but in the absence of more gun control, some states and some counties are clearly ready to take more action than others.


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