Suffolk OKs plan to check psych patients' gun licenses
Suffolk lawmakers Tuesday directed the county police and sheriff's departments to check anyone they commit for psychiatric treatment against their pistol permit registries -- a measure aimed at quickly stripping access to weapons from people deemed to be an immediate danger to themselves or others.
Supporters said the bill, approved unanimously at the legislature's meeting in Riverhead, could be a national model for enacting "laser-focused" local gun control as the federal government remains gridlocked over more sweeping solutions.
"This is a common-sense measure," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the initiative in response to December's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. "It's sensible, it's logical, and it connects some dots."
The bill mandates only that officers automatically check the names and addresses of individuals they involuntarily commit against the county's 37,000 handgun licensees. Investigators will continue to determine if circumstances warrant suspending or revoking a license, then move to confiscate the weapon.
Suffolk police Capt. Bill Read, pistol licensing bureau commander, said officers last year committed about 3,000 people to Stony Brook University Hospital's Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program. Had the new checks been in place, he said, five of those people could have lost their pistol license or had their request for a permit denied.
Officers may also suspend the license of anyone living with the psychiatric patient.
"The legislation doesn't mean we automatically take the weapon, but by practice, we almost always automatically take the weapon," Read said, noting the same practice has long been in place in cases of domestic violence and protective orders.
Suffolk police started checking the names of patients they committed against its 33,000 pistol licensees when Hahn's bill was introduced last month, but will soon check addresses. They've yet to have a match.
The sheriff's department, which keeps the 4,000-licensee pistol permit registry for Suffolk's five eastern towns, will work with those police departments to adopt the policy.
"If it saves one innocent person, it was a good measure," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who represents several of the East End towns.Also Tuesday, the legislature approved:
A pair of borrowing measures totaling $158.5 million to ensure that the county can meet payroll and cover other expenses in the first half of 2013: $38.5 million to pay for last fall's arbitration award to correction officers, the first time the county has sought to borrow to pay salary increases; and a record $120 million in short-term revenue anticipation notes. That represented a $30 million increase over last year, when Suffolk issued revenue anticipation notes for the first time in two decades.
Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) was the only opposition to the revenue-anticipation borrowing, saying County Executive Steve Bellone should first outline a long-term fiscal plan.
"We have to be certain as a legislature that we have a plan in place to deal with our significantly increasing fiscal challenges," Cilmi said. "I just don't feel comfortable that we have that plan in place."
A one-year residency waiver for Bellone's newest public relations aide, Tim Ruggeri, a Long Island native who lives in Brooklyn. The former Babylon Town spokesman, hired in December, is paid $95,000 a year, and said he plans to move back to Suffolk.
Reducing county golf course fees for veterans to match discounts now given to seniors. For weekday play, veterans will pay $17, instead of the general $28 rate.
A requirement that the county promptly provide consumers, upon their request, with any complaints lodged against a contractor and any violations issued as a result. Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon), who sponsored the measure, said it would keep residents more informed about people they're considering to work on their properties.