Entering data too cumbersome for some agencies, causing holes in gun background checks

Ohio Headlines

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – It is a common expectation that law enforcement is going to do everything it can to make sure we are safe. ​ Part of that duty is incredibly mundane; filing paperwork.

It’s tedious, boring, and time consuming.​ And when it isn’t done, all sorts of problems can occur from cases being thrown out to people buying guns that shouldn’t be able to.​ Wait. What?​ Yep. That’s happening. Some people who shouldn’t be able to buy a gun in Ohio are able to because someone connected to the justice system, whether it is a law enforcement agency or the courts is dropping the ball.​

Currently in Ohio, it is not required to input warrants for someone’s arrest into the two databases that are commonly used by law enforcement and federally licensed firearm dealers to check people’s backgrounds.​ It is estimated there are at least 500,000 active open warrants in the State of Ohio. Some of those will be multiple warrants assigned to the same person, but even accounting for that, that’s a lot of people wanted by the police.​

What makes it even scarier is less than half of those warrants have been reported to the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), those two databases mentioned above; and when it comes to the warrants that have been reported, only about 18,000 have been reported to the NCIC.​ What does that mean? It means more than 250,000 warrants are running around Ohio and possibly the country and if they are stopped by police, that officer whether they are here in Ohio or outside the state, will never know they are wanted for a crime of some degree.​

It should be noted that there is no way of knowing what level or danger the unreported warrants pose because no one seems to know if they are just a simple bench warrant for missing a court appearance, or if they are for something more insidious like murder or rape.​ Murder, rape, and 26 other criminal offenses are considered Tier-1 offenses.

There is no requirement to add those offenses to the LEADS or NCIC databases, and there have been instances found where a person was wanted here in Ohio for murder and arrested by police outside the state for a different crime and they had no idea he was wanted for murder here because it was never entered into the NCIC.​ This kind of failure to enter data becomes problematic when you look at how background checks for purchasing a gun are conducted.

One of the systems The FBI uses when conducting National Instant Background Check System (NICS) point of sale background checks for dealers is, you guessed it, the NCIC.​ But you don’t even need a warrant for one of the 28 Tier-1 crimes to disqualify you; a final protection order for domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking will do just fine. Unfortunately, those aren’t required to be entered into the system either; and some aren’t.​

According to Eric Delbert, a few years ago a man came into his store and wanted to purchase a gun. Delbert’s business received a “Delay” notification from the background check, which is typical and relatively normal. This is due to the system not having enough information at hand to make an instant decision. By law, if after three days they still don’t have an answer on the background check, they can go ahead and use their own discretion and either sell the gun or not. ​

Later that same day, the man’s wife came into Delbert’s store and notified them he was not allowed to purchase a gun because she had a protection order against him. Giving the store a copy of the order, she left to go visit other vendors in the area. A short time later, the background check came back “Proceed.” ​ Had the woman not come in and shared the documentation, Delbert says his store would have sold the man a gun because the background check came back clean; and it came back clean because someone didn’t enter the protection order against the man into the system. ​

Why is this happening? Well, apparently, the paperwork is just too cumbersome for agencies to go through the hassle of doing their job.​ “When a dealer calls (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) NICS for a background check they depend on that information, and the public depends on that information to be accurate and complete, and when it is not the system is failing these business owners and certainly is failing the public as well,” said DeWine. “When critical information is missing bad things happen.”​

Yes, by law it is not required to enter the warrants, but DeWine sees this as transcending all of that because they are professionals who have chosen to serve and protect the public.​ Having given the people who swore that oath the opportunity to do just that, only to have them fail because, ugh paperwork, DeWine wants to take the decision away from them and make it mandatory.​ No more putting the warrants in a pile and getting to them when you get to them, if ever.

Instead, DeWine has tasked Lt. Gov. Jon Husted with developing a technological solution to the problem; something that will be simple, easy to use,  and free to these agencies.​ Husted, through Innovation Ohio, will begin working on this solution immediately and says his team will be reaching out to law enforcement to determine how to make this work for them.​ DeWine wants protection orders to be added to the system within 48 hours of the order being issued.​

In the meantime, DeWine is looking to the Statehouse to make take his request to make this mandatory and give it some teeth.​ It doesn’t do anyone a bit of good if lawmakers make this mandatory and give it no teeth.

DeWine expects there to be some form of accountability attached to it, otherwise it becomes just another mandate that can be ignored with impunity; like constitutionally set budget deadlines.​

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