Law enforcement officials on Friday requested more funding to deal with a backlog of paperwork related to firearm purchases and transfer-of-ownership applications that have grown exponentially since the passage of new gun regulations.
Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection leaders testified Friday before the Program Review and Investigations Committee, which is charged with examining state police staffing levels. During Friday’s hearing, lawmakers questioned department officials about complaints from constituents regarding waiting periods for gun permits and gun ownership transfers.
Col. Danny Stebbins told the panel that requests to the state police involving guns have increased dramatically this year.
In response to the December 14 murders of 20 first graders and six educators at a Newtown elementary school, the state debated and enacted stricter gun control regulations. The murders and ensuing debate triggered a massive increase in gun sales in Connecticut.
“The numbers are way up,” Stebbins said.
In December, he said police had a backlog of 1,000 transfer applications for gun ownership. That number has since soared to around 62,000, Stebbins said.
“We didn’t see this coming. There is no way we could have prepared for that. But that’s the nature of this business,” Stebbins said.
Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican who chairs the legislative committee, interrupted Stebbins, thinking the colonel had accidentally added a zero to his backlog calculations. He asked if Stebbins meant to say the backlog had increased to 6,200. “No,” Stebbins responded.
“So it went up 62 times?” Kissel asked. “And that’s the backlog? 62,000?”
Stebbins said confirmed that it was, and that other paperwork backlogs had increased as well for fingerprints for pistol permits and background checks.
“All of these things are behind because we don’t have people to keep up,” he said, adding that some of the tasks can be done by civilian personnel.
Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford provided more numbers for the committee. He said there are currently 2,720 sets of fingerprints waiting to be processed for pistol permits and 9,326 applications are waiting to be processed.
Bradford attributed much of the backlog to an “uptick of purchases of weapons” that took place with the passage of the gun control legislation.
Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, said many of her constituents have complained about long waits for gun permits. Stebbins said the agency has been completing the applications within the required eight-week period, barring any complications.
Carpino seemed skeptical and called the backlogs “alarming to everyone in the room.”
“That number is absurd, with all due respect. We have an obligation to law-abiding citizens across the state to cure that backlog,” she said.
Bradford defended the agency, saying they have not had an increase in staff to accompany the increase in gun-related paperwork.
“For the record, we are dealing with these backlogs with the same number of people. We’ve been given no additional help,” he said.
Stebbins said state police officials have been meeting with the Office of Policy and Management every other week regarding how to address the backlogs and the impact of the new gun law. He said the answer will require additional resources.
“The report will come out as to what the recommendations are and, of course, all this will come with a cost. So it’s not like we’re sitting and waiting,” he said.
Bradford said his agency presented OPM with an updated estimate of its fiscal requirements once the gun legislation passed. He did not offer the specifics of what the agency was seeking Friday.
Bradford’s chief of staff, Steven Spellman, said the department does not believe there is enough money allocated in the budget the Appropriations Committee has proposed for the next biennium to cover the additional responsibilities required under the gun law.
Spellman said they were still in the process of determining the cost. He said they likely will need more staff.
“Frankly, we got the bill the day it was passed and there was a period of analysis. You know, what is it going to take here? We’re in a sort of triage mode in terms of getting our arms around what that involves,” he said.
Michael Lawlor, Office of Policy and Management undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said the administration supports providing additional resources to the agency, but he noted that no additional funding was included in the bill for this fiscal year. He said OPM was trying to send extra resources to the agency now and also to plan for more funding in the next budget.
According to the fiscal note attached to the legislation, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection is expected to incur $200,000 to $300,000 in additional costs in 2013 to develop and implement systems required to comply with new eligibility certificates and background checks. There’s an additional $250,000 earmarked for new employees beginning in 2014 to manage the system. At least part of that will be offset by the $35 fee for the permits.
The cost to the Department of Correction to incarcerate more people under the new law is expected to far outweigh the amount of money the state police need for background checks.