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Failing to take guns away from abusers

The Investigator
Your exclusive guide to the best journalism in Pa.
December 12, 2019 | spotlightpa.org
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Meet the power player in Pa. shaping drug addiction policy and legislation and see why her critics question her loyalties. Plus, why some police are failing to enforce a new law aimed at getting guns out of the hands of abusers. And what's up in the Capitol for lawmakers' last hurrah of 2019.

“I‘m not saying every police department is racial profiling. I‘m saying none can say they are not unless they actually have data.”

— Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, on police departments that don't track the race of drivers during traffic stops


Why some Pa. police are failing to enforce new law requiring domestic abusers to forfeit weapons

A new state law that went into effect in April requires that people turn over any weapons in their possession within 24 hours if they have been convicted of domestic abuse or are the subject of a final protection from abuse order. But as Claudia Vargas of The Inquirer found, police are often failing to enforce the rule.
Q: What did your reporting find?
A: My reporting found that the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office has a large backlog of weapon relinquishment cases and that the majority of Philadelphia defendants were not turning in weapons within the required 24 hour period. 
Q: What’s perpetuating the problem?
A: The Sheriff’s Office is not investigating weapon relinquishment cases as soon as they receive them. In addition, the Philadelphia Police is not communicating with the Sheriff’s Office once a protection from abuse order is served. And so, according to the Sheriff’s Office, they are having a hard time enforcing orders because defendants have 24 hours from when the order is served to turn in weapons. Although the Sheriff’s Office could serve orders when they knock on defendants’ doors, they are not doing so.
Q: What’s the potential solution(s) to make the law workable?
The law seems to be working fine for the suburban counties. And so, the law itself isn’t flawed. What Philadelphia could do is improve communication between Philadelphia Police and the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff deputies could also take copies of the court orders when going out to investigate cases in case the person says he or she has not been served when they arrive. They can then immediately serve an order and take possession of any weapons.
Q: Why should taxpayers care about this issue?
The law and the lack of enforcement can have an impact on public safety. In one case we highlighted in the story, an accused abuser used a revolver to shoot his cousin in the neck, critically injuring him, even though he should not have had the weapon following a relinquishment order under the new law. If police had served the order and followed up to make sure he had no weapons, maybe the defendant’s cousin wouldn’t have a bullet lodged in his neck.

Read the full story.

— Claudia Vargas, The Inquirer


Lawmakers head to Harrisburg for one last hurrah

The Capitol is typically empty as the holidays near, but it will get a shot in the arm next week as lawmakers return for an unusual late-December session:
House: Planned votes on criminal justice reform package
Several bills aim to decrease the amount of time people spend on probation and reduce the number of people who get caught in a seemingly endless cycle of imprisonment because of technical violations ... the package has bipartisan support ... a number of Democrats this week objected to an amendment proposing to reinstate mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of raping or harming children ... amendment is opposed by reform advocates who see it as a throw-back to the tough-on-crime era that resulted in overcrowded prisons and skyrocketing corrections costs.

Senate: Judicial nominations
The Senate is scheduled to be in session for only one day ... senators are expected to vote on a batch of judicial nominations made by the governor ... the nomination process has drawn scrutiny this year because of the pick of a top GOP aide for a Commonwealth Court seat and general secrecy in the process.

— Angela Couloumbis, Spotlight PA

Only the best


She's a power player in Pa.'s fight against drug addiction. But some question who she represents.

Deb Beck is a go-to source for legislators. But critics say she's putting business interests above the best patient care.


Does a driver's race factor into traffic stops by police? In many places in Central Pa., it's very hard to know

Many local police departments do not collect race data from traffic stops, making potential profiling difficult to detect.

» Inmates in Pa. are billed millions for their prison stays. Are the charges are unfair?
» Gov. Tom Wolf commuted a man’s life sentence. Now prosecutors want to jail him again.
» Pa. and other states are cutting environmental spending at the worst time, report finds
» Pa. urban school districts: 'We’ve effectively created a segregated school system.'
» Pittsburgh councilman wants to declare racism a public health crisis

We've been challenged to raise $10,000 by Dec. 31

The Wyncote Foundation and NewsMatch, a national matching gift campaign, will TRIPLE every gift to Spotlight PA. Can we count on you to support accountability journalism in Pennsylvania?


We're just $1,817 from our goal. Give now and help hold power to account.

Since last week, these donors have had their gifts tripled: P. Katze, Nicholas C., Stephen I., James N., Diana K., J. Persinger, Patricia L., Charles T., Gary F., Darrin S., Nicholas G., Patrick C., and Beverly H.


Send your answers to newsletters@spotlightpa.org.
A haul (Case No. 16): Brad fired up his semi for an 80-mile drive. As he got on the highway, he entered a weigh station and clocked in at 14,000 pounds. He made no stops, but when he got off the highway, the truck weighed 11,600 pounds. Why?
Stumped? Get a hint. Want us to feature your riddle? Send it to us.

Last week's answers: The timing of tides changes each day, so eventually the ship passed at low tide. Congrats to Ed L., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who correctly answered: Kenneth J., Adam R., Ted P., and Jon N.
» This week's Riddler hint: It's a guzzler.
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