Commissioner Dora Schriro’s Correction Department is failing to follow through on required annual firearms qualification for thousands of officers, in violation of its own regulations and state law, the Village Voice has learned.
Figures obtained by the Voice from a DOC database indicate that as of Oct. 1, half of the correction staff at the Anna M. Kross Center was not qualified on their firearms, 40 percent each at the Robert N. Davoren Center and the Brooklyn Detention Center, 38 percent each at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center and the Eric M. Taylor Center, and 21 percent at the George R. Vierno Center. These constitute the bigger jails in the system.
“Mayor Bloomberg has put a lot of emphasis on gun licensing and gun control, so it’s disgraceful that so many Correction officers are not getting qualified,” Sidney Schwartzbaum, the president of the association of deputy wardens and assistant deputy wardens, tells the Voice.
DOC regulations require annual firearm re-qualification. Moreover, under state law, no agency can allow any officer to carry or use a firearm unless the officer has satisfactorily completed a state approved training course each year. The approved course is one hour of classroom discussion of use of deadly force, and five hours at the firing range with 50 rounds fired.
Though they do not carry firearms in the jails, correction staff must be armed when transporting inmates off the island–to the hospital, for example. In addition, the majority of correction officers carry off-duty firearms.
Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains Association tells the Voice, “This isn’t negligence by the staff. They are asking for the training and not getting it. And there’s no excuse for it. This is a real concern. There’s obviously a real potential for problems when you have staff going around the city without the proper training.”
Correction Department spokesman Eldin Villafane disputed the union leaders’ assertions. He insisted that “over 70 percent of uniformed workers are firearms qualified.” “This is incorrect,” he says. “We graduated several large recruit classes back to back and prioritized them for training at the range. In anticipation of the unusually large number of new recruits, we created more slots for officers due for firearms re-qualification and secured slots at other agencies’ ranges nearby. As a result of this initiative, we have more than a sufficient number of firearms-qualified staff to effectively operate the agency.”
Schwartzbaum responded by calling Villafane a liar. “What irks me are the lies and misleading statements the department is spewing. Officers on our job are being arrested for lying, but yet Mr. Villafane with full complicity of the DOC is doing just that.”
Schwartzbaum points out that even if 30 percent of officers are not qualified, that’s still most than 2,000 officers. He said those officers who have not qualified this year have not been asked to surrender their off-duty firearms. Villafane did not last night address the issue of uncertified staff carrying their off-duty weapons.
Under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, law enforcement officers are allowed to carry concealed firearms only if, among other things, they meet standards established by their agencies which require the employee to regularly qualify in the use of a firearm.
“The federal law refers to officers who carry a firearm outside of state,” Villafane says. “Officers who are qualified to carry a firearm off duty under our standards would also meet the federal standards. We know of no violations of federal law.”
The DOC’s once a year qualification rules are actually fairly minimal compared to other law enforcement agencies. The NYPD requires training twice a year, for example. The state of New Jersey requires re-qualification twice a year for each gun owned by an officer, and has a requirement for both daylight and nighttime shooting.
So why should this matter to the public? “The problem is that firearms skills are perishable skills,” says Emanuel Kapelsohn, a Pennsylvania attorney and expert on use of force cases. “It’s not like riding a bicycle. If you have ridden for awhile, you may be shaky, but you can still ride. This is a skill you have to practice regularly. If you do something wrong, you could kill someone, a bystander or a fellow officer.”
Kapelsohn says the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, of which he is a board member, has guidelines which recommend a minimum of two qualifications a year. “Once a year is minimal at that, and then if you are not even doing that, you’re in a bad situation,” he says.