Monday, April 25, 2016

A Look Behind the Scenes of the Metro's CCW Detail

In an earlier post, we looked at the surging wait times for Las Vegas Metro Police (Clark County) to issue a concealed firearm permit, which can exceed the 120 day maximum in some cases. Combined with the closure of the dedicated fingerprint bureau, many citizens have become frustrated with the process. All the evidence indicates that yes, it really does take them this long and no, it is not some sort of government conspiracy, particularly because of matters outside of Metro’s control. With such huge numbers of applications, the CCW detail is nearly overwhelmed when volume peaks (see first post for charts).

Metro receives the most applications and consequently takes the longest time of all Nevada counties to issue a regular permit. It is the fingerprint background check and official court/local record requests, combined with very high volume, that causes the delay. Thankfully, four months is a small price to be paid in a traditional open carry state, unlike California, where someone without law enforcement/judicial employment can wait up to a year just for the preliminary interview and fingerprinting (due to surging demand after Peruta v. Gore).

Increased concerns about mass shootings, crime, and terrorism, along with an increasing belief that the average person should have a firearm for protection has caused a surge in concealed firearm permit applications and wait times. We covered the numbers and waiting times previously, but Sgt. Palmer of Metro’s CCW detail said that the Dept. of Public Safety numbers do not accurately represent the number of permits issued, which were about 1100 in December of 2015. Numbers fluctuate normally from 70 to 100 with a maximum daily number rate of 156 applications. As of April, the average issue time is about 90 days.

As application volume has increased, staff that used to split time between processing initial applications and running the database background checks had to be devoted to just the application process. Suspension and revocations (and their re-instatements) due to arrests or convictions is another factor in delaying initial applicants or renewals. National Firearm Act (NFA) chief law enforcement officer (CLEO) sign-offs are completed faster, in a 4-6 week time frame as some report, but have less steps as Metro checks local records and the bulk of the other research is done at the federal level.

The process used by Metro is fairly standard across the state and for some portions, in other states as well (though their laws on when a permit can be issued differ). Utah has a substantially similar permit, but issues before the fingerprint results are returned. They will issue if the computer searches come back clear, preferring to rescind a permit if necessary when the fingerprint check and document searches are finalized. This results in their average 60 day window.

Metro uses a Sharepoint database that allows any employee in the CCW detail working on applications to access a given file, sharing the workload amongst the team rather than leaving files entirely under one person’s charge. In smaller counties, files are often managed by only one clerical employee and personally reviewed by the sheriff.

The electronic law enforcement database searches takes only minutes. A clear record is obviously easier to process, but someone with a criminal record will need additional research, such as contacting the particular jurisdiction to obtain information on the record/charge. Sorting out near matches also takes time to determine if the listed ‘hit’ belongs to the applicant or someone with a similar name.

Court documentation, rather than the existence of a conviction record in a database, is required, necessitating requesting actual proof. Obtaining court documents to support dismissal of charges or simply ordering hard copies, when electronic ones cannot be provided, take time. One of the two major delays (the other being the fingerprint process) is getting the required paperwork.

Sgt. Palmer and his staff are dedicated to researching the information the best the can, laborious as it can be. “As long as they can meet the requirements, they have the right to the permit and we will take the time to conduct the investigation.”

The fingerprint check, through the FBI is routed via the state Dept. of Public Safety.  Responses can take between 30-45 days. Sgt. Palmer tells us:
“This process can create several problems and is responsible for numerous delays. An example is the state has lost the file or we never received the return. We have to re-submit the prints and/or request why we never received a response. We can only request this once every 30 days. So, once we send the request in, we have to wait 30 days for the response or lack of response to occur. If we don't receive anything in another 30 days, a 2nd request is sent.”
Background checks for law enforcement employees across the country also, at a minimum, take a minimum of two months for many of these same reasons as well. Even in California, an expedited concealed weapon permit can take two months to process.

Some permittees have had their fingerprints rejected because of light prints, damage to their fingertips, or other problems with the Livescan system. Sgt. Palmer says this can quickly increase the time taken to process an application.
“Once the electronic prints are rejected, the person must come in and complete an actual print card. The card is completed and mailed to the state. If the prints are rejected again, we have to request a non-print background check.”
Printing and mailing the car is a matter of how long it takes to physically print the card and ready it for mailing. Mailing time in the Las Vegas Valley is usually two business days, but in rural parts of Nevada, it can take longer or the permittee would need to come pick-up the permit.

Across the state
Clearly, all counties are different and permit receipt times vary, generally with the smaller counties having the fastest issuance times. This depends on local volume, although much of the delay is waiting on fingerprint records, which will naturally take longer almost uniformly, depending on the volume received. Sheriff Trotter of Churchill County reports that it takes his agency about 30 days to issue a permit. Elko finds it takes three to six weeks for a reply to the fingerprint record requests. Mike Dorson, of the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, told us:
“At our agency it takes approximately 30 minutes to process an applicant once he submits it at our front office window. However he/she may have a long wait depending on his/her spot in line. Every Tuesday afternoon we process 15-25 applicants from Front Sight Firearm Training Institute. Sometimes we have to turn applicants away (due to closing time) and they either return at another time or they mail their applications to us.”
As far as mental health records, the availability is limited. Nye County does not have access to mental health records, while Churchill County has their own local database. Agency master file records will generally indicate if a person was ordered held on “Legal 2000” 72-hour mental health hold. Presumably, that would trigger a more in-depth search.

Sgt. Palmer told us that when he first took his assignment within the CCW detail, he was surprised by the amount of time and work that went into the process. Unfortunately, the nature of the process, the extensive investigations that must be performed, and the amount of work required to document each requirement causes much of the delay. While most citizens can appreciate seasonal volume or tragic events spurring more applications, not knowing what happens once the packet and check cross the counter leads to much consternation.

When the concealed firearm permit process was changed to shall-issue in 1995, there was a concern that 60 days to issue the permit was insufficient, leading to the 120 day deadline. A 60-90 day wait was not unusual for non-weapons background checks then. While the process has been sped up by electronic records and delivery/submission of fingerprints and record checks, the applicant volume has erased those gains.

Short of hiring more records clerks in Clark and Washoe Counties, there is not much more that can be done to accelerate the process. State law could be changed to institute a policy such as in Utah, which would allow for issuance pre-fingerprint background check results. The Dept. of Public Safety could also consolidate operations in a larger bureau, but this would require additional state funds to staff and operate.

By far, the best solution is to enact ‘Constitutional carry’—permitless concealed carry. While open carry without a permit is legal in Nevada, most Americans prefer to carry their firearms concealed. Many who desire to protect themselves don’t want to openly carry a handgun, but are equally dissuaded from the cost of training, the application, and the intimidating process of applying for a permit. It shouldn’t be a crime to put a jacket on over a holstered gun or for a woman to tuck pistol in her purse. Only with the legislature stepping up in 2017 to change Nevada law to catch the wave of new constitutional carry states across the nation will concealed carry become less of a hassle to Nevadans and our oh-so-necessary tourists.

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