Journal News gun permit map endangers officers, officials say

Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco speaks during a

Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco speaks during a news conference regarding gun permit information. (Jan. 4, 2013) (Credit: Sarah Armaghan)

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Criticism of The Journal News, which published a gun permit database last month, broadened Friday with Rockland law enforcement officials saying the map listing the names and addresses of those with gun permits is endangering lives.

Inmates at the Rockland County jail are taunting corrections officers by saying they know the guards' home addresses -- information they got from the list published by Westchester-based newspaper, Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said.

"Since about 9:30 this morning, I've been in a meeting with my corrections officers and their unions. They have inmates coming up to them and telling them exactly where they live. That's not acceptable to me," Falco said at a news conference Friday morning in New City, where local leaders condemned the list.

Falco, along with other supporting police chiefs and county legislators, wants the paper to remove the information from its website.

"It's hurting law enforcement as a whole and it's directly affecting our ability to do our jobs," Falco said. "And then when we leave our jobs, we're going to have to defend our jobs and that's going to make for a very serious incident that's going to happen someplace in this county."

Robert Riley, a White Plains police officer who is president of the department's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, agreed that the database is putting officers' lives at risk.

"My members are outraged," Riley said, noting that the potential dangers to law enforcement extend beyond Westchester and Rockland counties.

"You have guys who work in New York City who live up here," Riley said. "Now their names and addresses are out there, too."

Falco said there are 8,000 active and retired NYPD officers currently living in Rockland County.

The Journal News obtained the information of pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties through a Freedom of Information Act request after the massacre of 26 people -- 20 of them children -- in Sandy Hook, Conn., on Dec. 14. Putnam County has refused to turn over this information.

The interactive map, published Dec. 23, listed the names of about 44,000 pistol permit holders.

State lawmakers say they intend to introduce legislation to exempt the names and addresses of permitted pistol owners from being released to the public.

Calls to The Journal News Friday afternoon went unanswered. A message left on a newsroom answering machine was not returned.

In an article on the Journal News website, Janet Hasson, president and publisher of the newspaper, defended the decision. "New York residents have the right to own guns with a permit and they also have a right to access public information," she said.

STRIKING BACK

Riley said he has been in touch with state Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) about getting legislation passed "that makes sure this never happens again."

Riley wrote a letter to the publisher of the newspaper asking that the names and addresses be removed from the website.

"While I believe these lists were published in the aftermath of the unfortunate tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and while I believe everything should be done to prevent such tragedies, releasing the names of active and retired police officers endangers their lives and those of their families," Riley said in the letter obtained by Newsday.

"Every day, police officers risk their lives to protect the citizens and visitors in their communities. They enforce the laws and detect crime. In performing these duties, officers encounter persons that, for whatever reason, seek retribution against the officers," the letter said.

By publishing their names and addresses, Riley said Friday, "Pandora's box has been opened. The damage is done."

Legis. Aron Wieder (D-Spring Valley) called the publication of the list "irresponsible journalism" and said he now fears for his safety because the map broadcast that he does not have a gun license. At the news conference Friday morning, he handed a $150 certified check and a completed pistol permit application to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato.

"I never owned a gun but now I have no choice," Wieder said. "I have been exposed as someone that has no gun. And I'll do anything, anything to protect my family."

Piperato, who also serves as president to the New York State County Clerks Association, said all 62 counties in the state are supporting the state legislation to amend the law that makes gun permit holder information public.

"I've received hundreds of calls these last two weeks from residents in this county, both who have permits and those who do not have permits, who fear for their life," Piperato said. "My heart goes out to them and I condemn what The Journal News has done."

Rockland County Legis. Frank Sparaco (R-Valley Cottage) and Legis. Ilan Schoenberger (D-Wesley Hills) unveiled three bipartisan resolutions Friday in response to the newspaper's actions.

The first condemns the publication of the list, while the second resolution supports proposed state legislation that would make pistol permit information confidential. Lastly, the legislators aim to institute a program by the Rockland County Sheriff's Office that would distribute 1,600 firearm cable safety locks to residents in the county who want to safeguard their weapons.

"Regardless of anyone's position on the issue of gun control, people on both sides of the debate have agreed that publicizing personal information of legal gun ownership serves no positive purpose," Sparaco said.

Orangetown resident Charlotte Swift, 55, handed out lists of the newspaper's employees linked to the article, with their home addresses and phone numbers, as well as local politicians who can have an influence on the bill in Albany.

Swift said she has owned a gun for more than 20 years and her name is on the published list.

"When I saw the list, I had an immediate flood of emotions that I cannot even describe to you," said Swift. "I originally obtained a gun permit because I had previously been married to a man who attempted to strangle me . . . The first emotion I felt was, 'Oh my gosh, he can find me.'"

She also feared burglars might break into her own home and those of her neighbors who do not have guns.

"It clearly had no journalistic purpose," Swift said of the database. "In my mind, I felt intimidated, I felt threatened by them . . . and regardless of what The Journal News intended, what was their purpose in publishing it? It really didn't give any information to people that help them in their everyday lives."

The Rockland County resolutions will be voted on at a full legislative meeting in the upcoming weeks.

With Timothy O'Connor

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