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Suffolk cops checking mental health-pistol permit link

Suffolk police have begun requiring officers to check the names and addresses of anyone they involuntarily commit for psychiatric treatment with the department's pistol permit registry.

The policy was put in place earlier this month, after county Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) -- prompted by the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and the ensuing debate over limiting access to guns by the mentally ill -- introduced a resolution to mandate that police and sheriff's deputies perform the checks. Public Safety Committee members will consider the bill Thursday, and if approved, the measure is expected to go before the full legislature on Tuesday.

"I look at the transport of a person for mental health reasons as a red flag waved," Hahn said. "So if there's a problem there, and this person owns a gun, let's investigate further."

Last year, police officers involuntarily committed about 3,000 people to Stony Brook University Hospital's Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program. Twenty-five of those people were on the pistol license registry, said police Capt. Bill Read, commanding officer of the licensing bureau.

The bureau already checks domestic violence suspects and people subject to protective orders against its 33,379-licensee permit registry. Those people and psychiatric patients with confirmed matches have their pistol licenses suspended and their guns confiscated, Read said. Gun owners can appeal the suspensions, and police may decide to reissue licenses based on individual circumstances.

Police Commissioner Edward Webber said he decided to implement the policy for psychiatric patients before Hahn's bill is considered given "the potential to save lives."

Sheriff's Chief Michael Sharkey said his department also will have deputies check involuntary committals against pistol licensees, regardless of whether Hahn's proposal becomes law. The sheriff keeps the handgun registry for the five East End towns. There are about 4,000 licensees.

Hahn said her measure would fill the "gap" between any potential federal gun control measures and a new state law that directs mental-health professionals to report patients they deem possible threats to themselves or others.

Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), a public safety committee member and former Suffolk police officer, said he likely would support the measure, though he wondered whether it would ultimately be needed.

"It's not . . . bad . . . legislation, but it is going to be redundant," Muratore said.

Nassau police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack said Wednesday night that he couldn't immediately confirm whether the department checks psychiatric referrals against pistol licensees.

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