Linn sheriff's new directive expands weapons safe-keeping

Directive will help as deputies work to "safeguard" crisis situations, sheriff says

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner has created a written directive that will require his deputies to ask someone who has sought their help in a mental health or substance abuse crisis to voluntarily hand over weapons in his or her home for temporary safekeeping.

Gardner on Tuesday said he and his command staff expected that most of the department’s deputies already seek to obtain guns for safekeeping when they answer such crisis calls now.

Deputies, he said, do seize weapons from homes in instances in which individuals have made it clear they intend to harm themselves or others, and the court often directs such seizures when there has been an involuntary mental commitment to a hospital.

The new written directive, though, is designed for a broader range of crisis situations and will not require that a standard such as intention to harm self or others be met for deputies to ask to take temporary possession of weapons for safekeeping.

The written directive, the sheriff said, will help as deputies work to "safeguard" a crisis situation so they are "not called back for another call or for something worse than why we’re here to begin with."

He said the department’s deputies push back on some new directives, but he said they would not on this one.

With the change, it’s "not just a kind of guessing game on their part, ‘Well, yeah, I think we’re supposed to’ or ‘I’ve been told we’re supposed to,’" Gardner said. "But this actually puts it in writing … to make sure that everybody understands that that is what is required of them now."

The Linn sheriff was asked about his departmental policy in the wake of the double murder-suicide in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 30 in which 47-year-old Robert Livingston shot his wife, Ingrid, 41, and her mother, Linda Huber, 73, before shooting himself.

A day and half earlier, Livingston called Cedar Rapids police officers to his house, where he was alone and said he was having some kind of mental crisis over a relationship and needed to be taken to Mercy Medical Center.

At the time, the officers were informed he had guns in his house. The officers left the guns there, and one officer transported him to the hospital.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman said last week that he did not know what happened with Livingston at the hospital, and the hospital has declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.

All the chief said he knew was that a day and half later, Livingston was back home, drove three blocks to mother-in-law Huber’s residence, entered and fired multiple shots with a military-looking AR-15 rifle, killing Huber and Ingrid Livingston.

Ingrid Livingston recently had moved into her mother’s nearby residence with the Livingstons’ two school-age daughters, who were in the residence during the killings.

Chief Jerman said his officers acted appropriately in the first call to Livingston’s residence when an officer took Livingston to Mercy Medical Center at 8:30 p.m. and decided not to ask him to hand over his weapons.

Jerman repeated that assessment on Tuesday.

In response to Gardner’s new written directive on crisis calls, Chief Jerman said his police officers answer a myriad number of kinds of calls, and he said he doesn’t intend to issue new directives on each and every kind of call. The Cedar Rapids department has good policies and procedures and good training, he said.

For his part, Gardner said he did not want to engage in a feud with the Cedar Rapids Police Department or any other one over when deputies and officers should ask for guns in crisis situations. He said he had not spoken to Jerman, and he said he did not know the details of the Livingston double murder-suicide.

Nonetheless, he said it made sense for his department to put a new directive in writing that addresses hypothetical cases that may not be unlike the Livingston case.

"A lot of this is judgment calls," Gardner said. "Well, let’s try to take some of the judgment out of this, so you lessen the chances of something bad happening once we are gone (from a call)."

Gardner said the new directive will require deputies to ask those in crisis but not otherwise threatening harm to themselves or others to hand over weapons for temporary safekeeping, but the individuals won’t have to do so, he said.

"Because we go to one of these calls doesn’t mean we’re going to walk out with weapons even if they are there," the sheriff said.

At the same time, he said his department can flag a home where there have been welfare and crisis calls and where it is known there are weapons. Deputies then at least will know what they might expect if they are called to that house again, he said.

Gardner said the rules on guns are much different in Iowa in instances of domestic violence.

Law enforcement officers who find that an act of domestic abuse has occurred in a residence, take the suspect to jail where he or she stays until an initial court appearance. The discharge from jail comes with a no contact order, which requires the defendant to turn in all guns until the court case is resolved and the judge orders the gun or guns’ returned, Gardner said.

In the days following the Livingston double murder-suicide in Cedar Rapids, State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said Iowa’s law enforcement officers "ought to have more tools" when they identify someone in a "high-risk situation" who has guns in the house.

At the same time, Hogg said gun advocates in the Iowa Legislature make it impossible to address guns and mental health in the same discussion. As a result, his focus is on how to make Iowa’s mental health system more robust, he said.

"In my view, anything touching guns is just not something that is going to be addressed legislatively," Hogg said.

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