Red flag orders in NY fall to Law of Unintended Consquences

janmarcustrapp / Pixabay

In the wake of Buffalo, NY Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered the state police to make more use of red flag orders. After all, she had to do something in the immediate aftermath or else be blasted for doing nothing.

So, she did.

Now, understand, this is one of those things that we’re told are absolutely essential and that we need on the national level. However, the truth on the ground in New York shows how the Law of Unintended Consequences doesn’t care about your partisan agenda.

The number of “extreme risk protection orders” being filed by State Police has surged in the wake of an executive order issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul last month that mandated troopers pursue the court applications whenever they encounter a person who is “likely” to be at risk of harm to themselves or to others.

The civil cases almost always involve firearms, and whether a person who poses a potential public safety threat should have those weapons seized by police through a court order — either temporarily or for up to a year. The governor’s order was issued days after a mass shooting in Buffalo in which 10 Black people were killed by an 18-year-old white man in what police said was a racially motivated attack.

But many of these “Red Flag Law” cases are being dismissed by judges across the state because the troopers and investigators filing the complicated applications with courts are often appearing at the hearings without attorneys and in proceedings in which they have been instructed by the State Police to not make legal arguments, according to correspondence and interviews with people familiar with the matter.

Earlier this month, a state Supreme Court justice in Orange County wrote a letter to the state attorney general’s office and the State Police “as a courtesy” informing them that he was requiring their respective offices be notified of applications for final extreme risk protection orders filed by State Police.

“State Police investigators and troopers are designated as petitioners in these matters and are required to appear in Orange County Supreme Court to prosecute them,” Justice Craig Stephen Brown wrote. “These law enforcement officials have been appearing without counsel … in these civil proceedings in the Supreme Court. It does not appear their training includes the legal nuances necessary for them to proceed in such a manner in these legal proceedings (rules of evidence, conducting direct and cross examinations, etc.).”

So, Hochul orders the state police to do something, which they then do, only it literally accomplishes absolutely nothing.

It’s a waste of taxpayer money even if you believe red flag orders are an unmitigated good thing.

For those of us who know otherwise, it’s yet another example of how the ambition of the policy doesn’t reflect its reality.

See, it was easy for Hochul to order the state police to file for more red flag orders, but the unintended consequence was that literally nothing else would be happening. Nothing at all. Yet these officers have to appear in court over these orders. They either do it during their shift–in which case they’re in a courtroom and not doing anything else–or they’re coming in on their time off, which they get paid for.

That costs money.

And yet, because they’re appearing without any kind of attorney to help, that money gets spent by the government with nothing to show for it.

On the plus side, though, it means guns aren’t being taken from people who have done nothing wrong except make people a little concerned.

After all, don’t get me wrong here. I vehemently oppose these laws for a number of reasons, so I’m very glad to see these fall through like this. I see it as a good thing, after all.

But I also think it’s important to remember that just because a governor decrees something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to go as they intend.