Overlake Hospital hosted a free seminar discussion on Thursday, Aug. 22 at its PACCAR Education Center in an effort to provide the public with more information on Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law in Washington state.
The panel featured Kimberly Wyatt, a deputy prosecuting attorney who helped write the state’s current ERPO law, Melissa Chin, a legal advisor with the Bellevue Police Department, and three police officers from the Bellevue, Issaquah and Redmond departments.
The seminar came about, in part, to both explain ERPO law in Washington state and clarify any questions the public might have about it. Because the law took effect in the state in Dec. 2016, many people living in Washington, as noted by the panel, still might not know much about it and what it can do.
Wyatt acknowledged that the initiative was passed without education about ERPO law being immediately accessible to the public.
“‘How do you get the word out in a systematic way?’” Wyatt said she and her colleagues have asked themselves.
The Aug. 22 class was an attempt to begin that process.
An ERPO is a civil order to prevent future gun violence. As it stands, an ERPO directs the person it has been petitioned against to surrender their firearms. It additionally makes it illegal for that person to not only access but also purchase, receive, possess, have control of or access firearms, and restrains a person from getting or maintaining a concealed pistol license.
ERPOs are typically filed against people who have exhibited behavior, like violence or self-harm, that suggests they might harm themselves or others with a firearm. The goal of an ERPO, according to Wyatt, is to prevent or reduce harm.
“This tool is really designed for before the crime has occurred,” she said. Chin added that an ERPO aims to “keep guns out of the hands of someone in crisis.”
According to the data included in the presentation, 45 percent of ERPO petitions are filed when it’s believed that someone is a threat to themselves; 35 percent when someone is deemed a threat to others; and 22 percent when it appears that a person poses danger both to themselves and others.
Though ERPO law can prevent access to a firearm, it does not offer physical restraint protections, however. If the petitioner needs physical protection from the respondent, that’s a separate process.
A person being petitioned against is called a “respondent” by the state. A petition can be filed by a family or household member of the respondent, a law enforcement officer or a law enforcement agency. The person filing the petition is called the “petitioner.”
There are several steps in applying for an ERPO: petitioning the court, filing the petition, appearing for a temporary hearing, receiving the notice of the hearing and then appearing for a full hearing. If an order is granted, it lasts one year but is able to be renewed for additional one-year periods. Any motions or requests for renewal should be filed 105 days before the order’s expiration date.
If a respondent proves they are not a risk to themselves or others by having firearms, they can file a motion curtailing the ERPO. However, that can only happen once during the single-year period in which the ERPO is implemented.
There are consequences for those who violate the ERPO process.
If someone files an ERPO petition knowing that the information they have provided is inaccurate, or if they have done so with the intent of harming the respondent, they will be found guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Additionally, if someone has the knowledge that they are prohibited from purchasing, receiving or possessing a firearm but have a firearm in their care anyway, they are also guilty of a gross misdemeanor. If there have been two or more previous convictions, the person is guilty of a class C felony.
Last year, there were 71 ERPOs filed in Washington state, with 211 firearms recovered.
Law enforcement officers at the seminar talked about how crucial it is to be specific in language when petitioning with the assistance of law enforcement.
“A challenge we run into is, how is it communicated?” Bellevue North Sector Captain Joe Nault said, adding that petitioners often will be pressed for specifics regarding history of and warning signs exhibited by a potential respondent.
Wyatt added that there have only been a handful of ERPO cases in Washington state in conjunction with a criminal case.
Although ERPO law in Washington state is relatively new, it is neither unprecedented nor uncommon on a national level. Washington is one of 18 states to have ERPO or “red flag” laws, which are comparable to ERPO law in that they allow police or family members to petition a state court to momentarily retrieve firearm access from people who might be a threat to themselves or others.
Five states — Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are currently considering implementing ERPO laws.