In a move to help law enforcement agencies across the state flag illegal firearm purchases by those cited in protective orders, the state announced yesterday grants totaling nearly $1 million to help ensure these orders are properly entered into Maryland's law enforcement database.
It's been more than a year since Lisa Spicknall's protective order that would have prevented her husband from buying the gun he used to kill their two toddlerswas improperly entered into the state police database.
But those kinds of clerical errors are occurring less frequently, according to a new state police audit, and the state grants to 24 law enforcement agencies should ensure even more accurate and prompt data entry.
"It's unfortunate that the Spicknall case brought this to our attention," said Stephen P. Amos, executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which made the grants. "One critical error is one too many."
He said a long-term plan is being developed to address the problems with the system statewide. "In the short term, it's important to bolster the existing infrastructure with additional personnel, equipment and thousands of overtime hours," said Amos.
The grants, announced at a news conference in Annapolis, range from $11,000 for the Dorchester County sheriff's office to two grants totaling $271,565 for Baltimore law enforcement, which will pay for overtime, personnel and computer equipment at the city police department and sheriff's office.
Baltimore County received a $14,120 grant and Harford, $45,948.
The Anne Arundel County sheriff's office landed $33,947 to hire a full-time data entry clerk and purchase additional equipment for its domestic violence unit.
"The county has to serve 1,500 orders of protection a year," said Anne Arundel Sheriff George F. Johnson IV. "This will enhance our ability."
Carroll County's share of $38,470 will enable the sheriff's office to hire a second clerical staffer and buy a computer, fax machine and spectra camera to process domestic violence cases, said Col. Bob Keefer of the sheriff's office.
"The spectra camera takes very good close-up shots of injuries," Keefer said. "When somebody comes into our office, if we see injuries, we'll take photos and start collecting evidence right then."
Police and sheriff's departments are required to enter protective orders into a statewide computer system, which the FBI uses for criminal background checks for gun purchases. Federal law prohibits anyone who is placed under a court restraining order from buying a gun for one year.
The most recent state police audit sampled 300 protective orders processed by 12 of the state's larger police forces from April to September. It found serious errors fell from 56 to 15 over the last four months. However, mistakes still occurred. Baltimore's sheriff's department made six errors classified as "critical" out of 25 protective orders. Howard County made eight critical errors out of 25 protective orders.
A clerk in the Howard County sheriff's office failed to enter a protective order against Richard Wayne Spicknall II of Laurel, who passed a background check when he bought a handgun at a College Park pawnshop days before he killed his toddlers.
In 1998, according to divorce papers, he shoved and threatened his wife, Lisa. In December of that year, she got a restraining order against him.
Some officials say the problem stems from staffing shortfalls. "It takes quite a bit of time to enter the protective orders, and most agencies are not staffed to do it," said Denise McCain, coordinator of the state's Victims Services agency.
Allegany County Sheriff David Goad, president of the state's sheriff's association, said, "Staffing and equipment are extremely important. ... When you don't have the ability or manpower, there's a chance someone can slip through the cracks."
In February, the state took an initial step toward improving processing to help keep victims safe with its first in a series of training seminars for data entry clerks, sheriff's deputies, prosecutors and court employees involved in the paperwork.
Sun staff writers Rona Kobell and Ellie Baublitz and the Associated Press contributed to this article.