Santa Clara County set to expand 'gun violence strike team'

After recent mass shootings in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park – Santa Clara County is expanding a task force that targets people illegally in possession of firearms. The county calls it a "gun violence strike team." County leaders concede there will be no way to know if the work this task force is doing will stop a mass casualty event from taking place, but they do believe if they can quickly get guns away from people with existing court orders — or who demonstrate threatening behavior — it could make a difference. 

The 66-year-old gunman who went on a shooting spree in Half Moon Bay had legally purchased his firearm and had no prior contact with law enforcement relating to this incident. The shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 2019 had legally purchased his gun in Nevada and transported it to California, where it was not legal. In both of these cases, and others, there was nothing to trigger any law enforcement action in advance.  "We all know in our community too well the negative impacts of gun violence," said Cindy Chavez, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. 

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County is set to vastly expand what is calls its "gun violence strike team" – which can quickly react to any potential threats if and when they are reported. The team will also follow-up to make sure guns which are already subject to court orders – such as in domestic violence cases – are removed.  "The sole purpose of this team is to get guns off the street and for people who have restraining order to take guns from people who, frankly, should not have them," Chavez said.

The program is run by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and currently has five people.

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On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is set to approve nearly a million dollars for several new positions. Cooperative agreements are also in place with local and federal partners which will bring the total unit size to 23.  "Other jurisdictions are doing way more gun violence restraining orders than we are and we need to up our capacity so that every time someone makes a threat and has a gun that we have the resources to get that court order and remove the guns from that person," said James Gibbons-Shapiro, Assistant District Attorney for Santa Clara County. 

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County leaders also hope that by keeping the dialogue open on the issue of reporting potential threats – it could prompt more people to step forward and possibly prevent a future tragedy. "What we want to make sure of is that if people see red flags they are reporting.  That is the only way we can know if somebody is a danger is for somebody to report," Chavez said.

Gibbons-Shapiro made clear the unit does not do any of it work without a court order. But temporary removal orders can be obtained quickly if necessary where a gun can be removed before a full hearing can take place.  Approval for the $931,000 for the added staff is currently on what is called the "consent calendar" for the Board of Supervisors. Unless a member of the board asks for it to be removed for discussion the funding is expected to be approved, along with dozens of other items, without further discussion.