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Audit finds inconsistencies in how Sacramento County handles concealed carry permits

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones explains rise in concealed carry permits

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, in a Jan. 28, 2016, interview with The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Bureau, explains his policy on concealed weapons permits.
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Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, in a Jan. 28, 2016, interview with The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Bureau, explains his policy on concealed weapons permits.

None of the three California county sheriff’s offices audited by the state, including the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, consistently followed their own department polices when issuing concealed carry weapon permits, the California State Auditor’s Office found.

The audit, which was made public Thursday, highlighted inconsistencies in the processing of concealed carry permits by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, which under Sheriff Scott Jones has dramatically stepped up the number of permits it grants. The audit also said the department lacks formal procedures for staff who review applications.

The auditor also said the Sacramento sheriff’s office should add more training for employees and should charge more for the permits. The current $100 fee has fallen short of covering the program’s costs by $160,000 to $275,000 annually since the fiscal year 2014-15, the auditor found.

The Los Angeles and San Diego County sheriff’s departments were the two other agencies audited by the state. Though each agency applied state laws differently to their concealed carry weapon licensing programs, overall, the audit concluded that they could not find a “bad effect from the varying approaches they have taken.”

“This report concludes that the three sheriff’s departments we reviewed each use the discretion provided to them by state law to implement their licensing programs differently than one another,” California State Auditor Elaine Howle said. “However, the departments we reviewed failed to consistently apply their own licensing policies or standards in the licenses we reviewed at each department.”

Thursday’s findings were released days after Jones shared his response to the state audit. In that response, Jones defended his department’s licensing program and disagreed with most of the findings made by the state auditors.

His statement spurred a dispute between Jones and Howle, who alleged that Jones violated state law by releasing audit information prior its publication. Jones defended his actions, arguing that the state law did not apply to the agency being audited, only to the auditor.

Jones suggested that the audit was spurred by the political ambitions of Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who requested the review earlier this year to examine the fiscal and public safety impacts of concealed carry weapon programs in California. McCarty’s request was approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, a bipartisan committee of the Legislature composed of members from the California State Assembly and Senate, the audit said.

In a statement issued late Thursday, McCarty said Jones “maliciously neglected his sworn duty to follow the law when issuing CCW licenses,” pointing to audit findings that the Sheriff’s Department did not notify individuals in accordance to state law when their application for a permit was rejected by the department.

The Auditor’s Office was tasked with reviewing the agency’s rules for concealed carry weapon licensing, examining if the rules were being followed and if they complied with state laws. The auditor also was told to look at how frequently the agencies were issuing permits and whether their programs had a financial impact on their respective counties.

Sacramento County had 9,130 active concealed carry licenses and a county population of about 1.5 million, the audit said. San Diego, with a population of 3.3 million, had only 1,281 licenses. A manual count in Los Angeles County, population 10.2 million, found 197 active licenses.

The state audit said the higher rates of concealed weapon licensing in Sacramento could have to do with the county’s interpretation of what constitutes as “good cause” for an applicant to obtain a license. In Sacramento, the need to defend his or her family can fulfill the requirement, while the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department requires an applicant to prove “a clear and present danger to life or of great bodily harm” that cannot be dealt by local law enforcement.

While the audit found no evidence showing that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department violated state law, it did find some instances in which the department did not collect the necessary documentation required for a conceal carry weapon permit under the sheriff’s owns rules.

For example, of the 25 licenses that the auditors examined as part of the audit, there were seven cases in which auditors found that licenses were approved even though they only partially met the proof of residency standards specifically outlined by the Sheriff’s Department.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department requires applicants to provide at least two documents verifying residency within the county, which can be done by submitting two monthly bills with their current address dated within 60 days of the application, the audit said.

In seven cases, auditors found that licenses were issued even though only one document proving residency existed or that the department had checked the applicants’ addresses against Department of Motor Vehicle records instead. In some of those cases, the bills were dated later than 60 days from the time the application was submitted.

The auditors also found that the employees who processed applications did not have formal procedures for reviewing the concealed carry weapon applications. The unit that handles the applications is staffed by one full-time staff member and part-time retired annuitants, the audit said.

Jones defended the department in his statement published Monday, saying that he has policies in place “covering almost every facet of the CCW permit process,” though not all of those policies are in written form. He also said that the department aims to be flexible when processing the concealed carry weapon permits, meaning staff may rely on other resources to establish an applicant’s residency status.

“This may result in a lack of a particular document for the file, but in no way indicates that the applicants’ residence was not adequately and properly verified,” he wrote in the reply to the audit.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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