In light of the recent mass casualty event in Maine and the ongoing spree of mass shootings across the nation, the District Attorney’s Office is adopting a new initiative county-wide in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies to identify and intervene in situations where people report individuals who exhibit behaviors indicative of danger to self or others by virtue of firearms. These indicators are outlined under the law with various mechanisms law enforcement can utilize to intervene before a tragic event ensues. These indicators range from behaviors that include mental health, threats, alcohol substance abuse, and people in crisis. When the indicators are present, immediate intervention tools exist for police both at the criminal and civil level.
District Attorney George Marquez has assigned Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Brooker to oversee the initiative. For five years before accepting the Imperial County A.D.A. position, Brooker developed and supervised the Gun Violence Response Unit (GVRU) for the San Diego Police Department in partnership with the Office of the San Diego City Attorney.
Since 2018, the GVRU has processed over 2,900 referrals and petitioned the superior court for over 1,200 Gun Violence Restraining Orders. As a result of these orders, GVRU has successfully petitioned the court to impose orders to remove over 3,200 firearms from violent individuals or those experiencing a period of crisis. These cases ranged from issues including potential mass shooters, mental health breakdown, and suicide interventions. All of these cases involved law enforcement contacts.
The GVRU is now identified as a nationwide leader and Brooker is recognized as an expert in this field across the nation. Brooker has provided testimony before the State Assembly, elected officials, and various Non-Government Organizations. Brooker created and provided over 100 P.O.S.T. certified training across the state, reaching over 500 law enforcement agencies.
On October 19, Brooker and the GVRU team received an award from the San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit for his contributions to keeping citizens safe. In July of 2023, the San Diego Police Department specifically trained Imperial County law enforcement officers on how to utilize gun violence restraining orders. Approximately 70 attendees attended the course. Since the training, the tool has been used by law enforcement officers and has also been utilized by prosecutors for individuals with cases assigned to mental health court.
Marquez said, “This is a law enforcement tool that can keep people safe when it’s used responsibly. When the police feel there is a viable, imminent danger to the public and there is no other recourse to make the situation safe, the GVRO is a great option. The safety of the public is the overriding concern. But when using this tool specifically, we have to also carefully guard people’s right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment. This is something I take seriously, and every case filed should be carefully vetted before its presented to a judge.”
At every level in the process, the court is the entity that decides whether a prohibition should be imposed. Law enforcement agencies simply make the request. If the prohibition is granted by the court, it can last for an initial minimum period of 21 days and a maximum term of 5 years, only after a hearing is conducted. Under the law, all firearms seized under this provision are to be stored free of cost and returned to the legal owner once the prohibition expires. The prohibited party is also free to sell the firearms at any time during the process. In effect, no firearms seized pursuant to a GVRO is permanent.
Brooker added, “A few of the many things that make the tool effective is that the intervention is proactive and immediate. Not only do referrals come from local police, but also federal agencies like N.C.I.S., V.A. Police, F.B.I., and military commands who identify service members experiencing different forms of crisis. These referrals allow state and federal authorities to jointly and quickly intervene when the subjects live off base within our local communities. Another built-in component of these laws requires that the GVRO be the least restrictive means to make the situation safe. If there is another way to do so without petitioning the court, the law requires that option first be exercised.”