In every state with an ERPO law, law enforcement officials can petition an ERPO. In states where civilians may file, law enforcement officers typically remain the most common petitioners. Furthermore, ERPO petitions filed by law enforcement officials are more likely to result in an order from a judge. Law enforcement officials also play a crucial role in the safe service of ERPO orders and firearm dispossession. In this section, learn more about the importance of law enforcement officials in the ERPO filing and service process as well as best practices and model policies for the order service and firearm dispossession process.
Law Enforcement as ERPO Petitioners
This video series, created by Johns Hopkins University, is intended to be useful for law enforcement officers interested in how ERPO laws work in practice. This series provides perspectives from various individuals working across all levels of law enforcement and at different stages of the legal process.
An Introduction to Law Enforcement as Petitioners for ERPO from Dr. Shannon Frattaroli
Interview with Major Martin Bartness of Baltimore City Police Department
Lessons on Law Enforcement Training from Sheriff Darren Popkin of Montgomery County, MD
Collaborating Across the System from Judge (Ret.) Anne Levinson of King County, WA
Interview with Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell of Hampton, VA
Concluding Thoughts on Law Enforcement as Petitioners for ERPO from Dr. Shannon Frattaroli
ERPO Model Policies
When implemented well, ERPOs have shown to be life-saving measures across the country. Law enforcement at the state and local level require clear, detailed policies and protocols when serving ERPO orders and dispossessing firearms. Written ERPO policies and protocols which take into account both how individual jurisdictions operate as well as the unique, local landscape are crucial for successful ERPO implementation. Below are model policies designed by jurisdictions across the country to provide examples of the ERPO process for law enforcement from start to finish.
Best Practices for Implementation
Before the Order
Work with Community Groups and Leaders
Municipal leadership, community groups, and other local stakeholders are critical for the successful implementation of ERPOs in their communities. Law enforcement should work with local leadership and community organizations in establishing working groups to develop a locally-appropriate implementation program. Social service providers, healthcare providers, mental health services, domestic violence advocacy groups, community violence intervention and violence interrupter programs, veteran groups, and more may have unique perspectives on how to connect individuals in crisis with the help they need. Educating and collaborating with key local stakeholders on ERPO implementation would create a more efficient ERPO filing process as well as potentially connect individuals in crisis with the appropriate resources.
Dedicate ERPO Coordinators
Having staff specifically trained on ERPOs and oversee ERPO cases can be helpful in maintaining successful ERPO implementation in law enforcement agencies. ERPO specialists can operate in a variety of ways: serving as the agency’s main point of contact on ERPO matters, developing ERPO protocols, steward ERPO data, and more, in order to streamline the ERPO process and mitigate administrative burden on law enforcement officers.
Support Civilian Petitioners
Most states allow for civilian petitioners, such as intimate partners, family or household members, and healthcare workers. In addition to establishing an ERPO coordinator to assist with any questions, public facing materials explaining what ERPOs are, what the petition process is like, and how to file a petition, should be easily accessible for potential petitioners. In some instances, family and household members may prefer to have minimal law enforcement involvement in the petition process. Readily accessible information and instructions would help those petitioners to understand the process and more confidently file an ERPO petition.
Identify Safe Gun Storage Options
Most state ERPO laws allow for multiple potential storage options for dispossessed firearms, such as with law enforcement, to a licensed firearms dealer, or with a qualified third party with the court’s approval. It is important to allow for multiple storage options for the respondent. Some respondents may not be comfortable with storing their weapons with law enforcement, and providing other options may reduce anxieties about turning in firearms. Additionally, some respondents served an ERPO, such as minors served ERPOs, live in homes where another person owns firearms as well. Coordinating with those third parties to ensure the safe storage of the respondent’s firearms–as well as the third party’s–may be necessary.
After the ERPO Is Issued
Employ Co-Responder Teams and Crisis Intervention Teams
Many ERPO orders are filed in cases where the respondent is in emotional or behavioral health crisis. A co-responder team, made up of a law enforcement officer and a mental health crisis worker or social worker, works together to serve ERPO orders and conduct firearm dispossession. Through their combined expertise, the team is better able to enhance crisis de-escalation and link respondents in crisis to appropriate services or provide other effective and efficient responses. For more information on co-responder teams, read this best practice guide on co-responder team models.
Jurisdictions may train existing crisis intervention teams on ERPO implementation. Crisis intervention teams are designated teams who are trained to respond to mental illness calls. Jurisdictions may also create a designated ERPO response unit for serving ERPO orders, dispossessing firearms, and holding accountable those who do not comply with the ERPO. King County, Washington employs a Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit, which is specifically designated to implement ERPO orders and proactively prevent and reduce harm.
Coordinate with Respondent’s Support Network
Typically, even if a civilian files the ERPO petition, law enforcement is required to serve the order and conduct firearm dispossession. Officers should coordinate with the respondent’s support network if possible to develop a plan for safe service and dispossession. Considerations for safe service and dispossession include having the petitioner or other loved ones present during the process, what the respondent’s attitude toward law enforcement is, what the respondent’s daily schedule is, and what the respondent’s behavioral state may be. Information about the respondent’s day-to-day lifestyle and mental state can be beneficial for officers to develop a service and dispossession plan that lessens risk. Engaging with the respondent’s support network may also be a key opportunity to inform them of crisis and long-term help resources which may be available to the respondent.
Utilize Detectives for Service
When serving an ERPO, consider utilizing detectives as the main law enforcement official conducting the service. Regardless of the respondent’s attitude toward law enforcement, officers in uniform may be seen as intimidating by the respondent and may elevate risk. Additionally, it may be stigmatizing or criminalizing for the respondent to engage with uniformed officers in this context. Detectives, or other officers in civilian clothes, mitigate the risk for escalation or stigmatization by removing those visual indicators of law enforcement presence.
If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
If you are experiencing a crisis, please text or call 988.
The content of this website is not legal advice and is only intended for general informational purposes. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney.