New unit will work to remove guns from potentially dangerous people in King County

Ellie’s Place on the fourth floor of the King County Courthouse officially opened on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. It will house three programs including he Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Unit, which works to take guns away from potentially dangerous people. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - It’s been two years in the making, but now Ellie’s Place on the fourth floor of the King County Courthouse is officially open for business.

Named after the official courthouse dog that passed away in 2015, Ellie's place will house three programs including one that is very timely, the Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Unit.

The unit will consist of 12 people, including officers from the Seattle Police Department, deputies from the King County Sheriff’s Office, victim advocates and deputy prosecutors that are trained in weapons retrieval.

In 2016, voters passed a statewide initiative allowing anyone who has evidence that a person who owns guns may pose a threat to others, could have those weapons taken away temporarily by a court order.

It’s known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order or ERPO for short.

“If an individual’s made threats, if an individual has been volatile, destroyed property, if he's harmed animals, if he has a history of assaultive behavior, it’s evidence a judge can use for an ERPO,” said Anne Levinson, a retired Seattle Municipal Court Judge was instrumental in getting Ellie’s Place up and running.

Ellie’s Place will also house the Children’s Justice Center, where children and their families who’ve been victims of violence can come into a family-friendly setting for forensic interviews and legal assistance in getting an ERPO.

“There’s not another one like it in the entire country and we've already seen they are increasing the number of guns recovered from the most dangerous hands,” said Renee Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the group that backed the ERPO initiative.

But, it took a $1 million appropriation, shared between King County and the City of Seattle, and hundreds of volunteer hours to get Ellie’s Place operational.

Ellie's Place will also benefit smaller cities like Bothell in King County, that couldn't afford the resources of the firearms retrieval unit.

Not all counties and cities in the state are wealthy enough to do the same.

“These are great ideas, but they are unfunded mandates and they are being placed on departments with more unfunded mandates, it’s just making it very problematic," said Bothell Police Chief Carol Cummings.

Democratic State Senator Manka Dhingra of Redmond is sponsoring a bill to get guns out of the hands of people convicted of domestic harassment, and realizes the funding hole gun retrieval laws represent.

“If we are asking more of our officers, we have to make sure they get the funding they need to get the work done,” said Dhingra.

No state monies are being set aside for ERPO’s and their enforcement.

It’s up to each individual law enforcement agency to figure out how it’s going to comply with these court orders, which can be very risky to execute.

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