Amid spiking gun violence, Santa Clara County announces new gun team
Santa Clara Board of Supervisor Cindy Chavez speaks out about the need for a dedicated team to remove guns from people with restraining orders for domestic violence at a press event held at the county Government Center on Monday. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

Given an increase in gun violence in Santa Clara County, officials on Monday announced a new law enforcement team tasked with removing firearms from people with domestic violence and temporary restraining orders.

The county’s Board of Supervisors is expected to approve funding for two members of the special 5-member team at its meeting on Tuesday. Officials held a news conference Monday morning to highlight the need for the new program.

“Our policies in Santa Clara County and counties across the state can’t work if there is no one enforcing them,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez on Monday. “Often, these cases fall through the cracks and that’s a risk we’re not willing to take here in Santa Clara County.”

Chavez learned years ago that enforcement and coordination on domestic violence cases involving removal of guns was lacking. The District Attorney’s Office in 2018 investigated this gap in gun removal and embarked on a pilot program with San Jose in an attempt to address the issue. The District Attorney has requested a gun violence unit and is asking for $427,000 to fund an attorney and criminal investigator position.

“This is a great partnership,” Chavez said. “With not a lot of money we’re going to be able to make Santa Clara County be dramatically safer.”

Marisa McKeown, supervising Deputy District Attorney of the Crime Strategies unit for Santa Clara County, said gun violence rates in San Jose are outpacing the rest of the state — more than doubling over the last decade.

“We know that a gun takes an ordinary fight… and turns it lethal,” McKeown said. “We don’t want to see more tragedies like we saw at Habbits Court last year where an ordinary family argument turned into a mass shooting of five individuals inside of a home.”

The law prohibits certain individuals from owning guns. They include domestic abusers with restraining orders, a convicted felon, a repeated mentally ill offender who is dangerous, McKeown said. Even in cases where a person knows someone who is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, gun ownership is prohibited, McKeown added.

In terms of what gun removal looks like, officials say it would vary on a case by case basis, but having a dedicated team focused on removing guns from individuals who shouldn’t have them will help the process run more efficiently.

“We have officers who are experts in this area,” said San Jose Police Department Deputy Chief Heather Randol. “Our special operations takes each case very seriously. There is a step by step process that they go through before they actually serve that warrant.”

Officials say they hope to increase the safety in the community over time.

“Every weapon we can remove out of the hands of someone possessing it illegally is going to make a dent,” Randol said. “It might be a small dent one day, the next day it may be a big dent, but we’re going to keep chipping away and that’s what we have to do.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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