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Commonwealth’s Attorney unveils dashboard documenting gun removal cases

The new red flag orders dashboard as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14 (via Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney)

Fairfax County residents will now be able to access some data related to local temporary gun removal cases.

On June 13 (Tuesday), Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano released to the public a continuously updated digital dashboard that tracks ongoing and past Emergency Substantial Risk Orders — known more commonly as Red Flag Orders — as well as view demographic breakdowns of those subjected to ESROs by race, gender and age.

Instituted in 2020, Virginia’s red flag law gives the Fairfax County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney the authority to temporarily remove a gun or guns from someone’s possession if they have probable cause that the individual poses a ‘substantial risk’ to themselves or others.

When contacted by community or family members seeking to initiate a red flag order under a civil order, law enforcement will begin an independent investigation to determine whether one is appropriate.

If an order is granted, individuals are barred from purchasing, possessing or transporting any firearms for up to 14 days with opportunities for extension.

Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in the state with a team dedicated to red flag orders, Descano told FFXNow by email. The county is the source of 75% of red flag orders in Virginia, he said when announcing the new dashboard.

The dashboard is intended to improve public communications and demystify the court processes for the general public, similar to one on bond decisions that the prosecutor’s office launched last year.

“We wanted this dashboard to bring transparency and awareness to the community about this law and that it can be a tool that saves lives,” Descano wrote. “By showing that it is being used, I hope Fairfax residents will know that if they have a dangerous situation, they can pick up the phone and get help.”

In addition to allowing community members to be more knowledgable about Virginia’s red flag law, the dashboard aims to be a useful tool for prosecutors in guiding their work.

“The other important role of the dashboard is how it informs my prosecutors’ decision-making,” Descano wrote. “We’re using this internally to track cases and make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and that’s a key piece of our day-to-day work on these cases. We have about nine months of data now that we’re working with, and as we get more data on Red Flag Orders, we’ll be able to identify trends that may help us and law enforcement further protect the community and handle these cases.”

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has opened 108 red flag cases since May 2022, 92% of them against men, according to the dashboard.

The data will expand over time as Descano’s office works to incorporate more and varied trends and demographics into the board, Public Information Officer Laura Birnbaum says.

“There’s a lot more in this story to tell about how these orders are coming to the police, who’s initiating them, who are the respondents and what kind of situations are we seeing these these orders come out. There’s more data and more trends to pull apart,” Birnbaum said. “…Are there times of year where we see more of these and others? What does that help inform us about other ways we could do gun violence prevention work?”

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