Warrantless search law gives Fort Wayne, Indiana law officers an advantage in preventing gun violence such as school shootings

Law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne and in Indiana may have more tools to prevent school shootings than police in most other U.S. states.

Indiana is one of only five states nationwide where police officers can immediately confiscate weapons from someone they reasonably believe to be suffering from mental illness and who poses an imminent danger to others, himself or herself.

The Fort Wayne Police Department also is a leader statewide in providing Crisis Intervention training to its officers, which helps police assess an individual’s mental state and take appropriate action, said Lt. Tony Maze, the department’s CIT program coordinator.

Since the Feb. 14 mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., some news coverage has focused on the mental state of shooter Nikolas Cruz and possible warning signs of his violent attack.

Some of the reported warning signs included posts Cruz made on social media.

Fort Wayne Police have used Indiana’s warrantless search law about 12 times with mentally ill people since the law took effect in 2013, Maze said. He’s not sure if it has been used by police responding to domestic violence situations, but it could be.

Normally, if police encounter the person in possession of weapons and exhibiting manic characteristics or other signs of serious mental illness, they can confiscate the weapons immediately without obtaining a warrant if police believe the person is a danger to himself or others, Maze said.

Police then also would take the person into custody for transportation to the nearest mental-health facility for an assessment, he said.

“If we can delay or stop temporarily what may have happened, it allows the individual to get treatment and maybe not take action,” Maze said.

If the person is exhibiting serious mental health problems but doesn’t have a weapon on him or nearby, Maze said police would take the person into custody for a mental health assessment and then seek a search warrant to look for and possibly seize any weapons the person has at a residence or other location.

In each case, mental health professionals will assess and evaluate the person to determine how long the person needs to stay in the mental-health facility for assessment, Maze said.

After the person is released, the court system decides if or when the person can have their weapons back, he said.

Fort Wayne Police haven’t encountered a case like the Florida shooting, Maze said.

If they did, he believes they would have to present information, such as a person’s social media postings, to a judge and petition for a warrant to search the person’s residence for weapons.

Because the case involves the person’s mental health problems, police would have to show only reasonable belief the person is a danger to himself or others rather than providing evidence of probable cause for arrest in a criminal case, he said.

Police probably could show reasonable belief of danger by presenting the judge a string of the person’s social media posts or other comments, especially if the comments seem to be getting worse over time, Maze said.

Fort Wayne Police started their Crisis Intervention team in August 2001, likely becoming the first law enforcement agency in Indiana to do so, Maze said.

In the years since, the department gradually has expanded the training to all of its nearly 500 officers, Maze said.

The training also helps officers in other settings because they are better able to recognize signs of mental illness, he said. Officers also learn techniques to calm down someone who is manic or agitated, which could include people involved in a domestic violence incident or a traffic accident.

Families who have members who are mentally ill also appreciate the police crisis-intervention training because officers can better respond and care for the family’s member if he or she has a mental-health crisis, Maze said.

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