Responses to the Audit
Use the links below to skip to the specific response you wish to view:
- Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
- California State Auditor's Comments on the Response From the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
- Sacramento County Sheriff's Department
- San Diego County Sheriff's Department
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
December 1, 2017
Elaine M. Howle, CPA
California State Auditor
621 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Ms. Howle:
RESPONSE TO THE CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR REPORT –
CONCEALED WEAPON LICENSES WITHIN THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY
Attached is the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's (Department) response to the California State Auditor's (State Auditor) report entitled, "Concealed Weapon Licenses."
We initially note that the report did not find LASD to have issued any license in violation of State law.
It is unfortunate the Department's concerns are being addressed at this late stage of the audit process in response to the final draft report. The auditors presented written findings, without supporting evidence and solicited immediate validation responses from personnel without reasonable time to evaluate the information and prepare a comprehensive response. This type of interactive process would have allowed us to ask substantive questions and provide auditors with more evidence to validate the findings and confirm compliance with applicable laws. Unfortunately, during what appeared to have been an exit conference, the auditors did not ensure the Department understood the audit's purpose, methodologies, and/or results. This was a missed opportunity for the auditors to educate the Department regarding the audit process. The audit process and the manner in which it was documented are disappointing. We have since been sent a draft audit report and been given only five days to submit a detailed response. The chance to respond to the audit is appreciated, however more time to clarify objective compliance with the auditors would have been productive.
We acknowledge that the audit identified some weaknesses in our processes and corrective action has been undertaken as identified in attachment "A." Specifically, we have created a checklist that will be completed before any license is issued, verifying that the file contains all necessary documentation of good moral character, good cause, residency and training. We have also revised our fees and begun the process of identifying individuals entitled to a refund. We are further initiating a cost study to determine the actual costs of issuing licenses, as the report correctly points out that our actual costs are likely significantly higher than the fees currently charged.
We strongly disagree, however, that our CCW program is "marked by a consistent failure" to follow our policies. The report misinterprets our policy. The LASD policy simply requires that the applicant provide "convincing evidence" of good cause. Contrary to the assertion contained in the report, that does not necessarily require the "collection of documentation." In some cases, we may exercise our discretion to ask an applicant for additional documentation. In other instances, the declaration provided in the application itself can serve as documentation of good cause. We do agree that the application must contain satisfactory written evidence of good cause. That determination is based on an exercise of discretion by the individual making the decision at the time.
Auditors utilized testimonial evidence from staff that may have been taken out of context. The staff interviewed were not the same staff who held the responsibility of processing CCW applications during the audit time period. Subsequently, their testimony was conjecture as to what may have occurred during the audit time period. When it was stated that applicants from the law enforcement community met the requirements for good cause, the report implied the Department did not follow its own policy of requiring applicants from the law enforcement community to demonstrate good cause.
We also disagree with the suggestion in the report that licenses are unduly granted to persons involved in the criminal justice system, or that the LASD treats applicants inequitably based solely on their occupation. A decision to grant a license is not made solely due to a specific occupation, but consideration is given to the specific circumstances attendant to the individual's occupation. Not surprisingly, a large number of applicants for CCWs are current or former members of the law enforcement/criminal justice communities. The law itself acknowledges this, in that there are specific provisions made for licenses issued to judicial officers and former peace officers.
In sum, although past practices may have been consistent with the law, it may be fair to say that some documentation to support compliance with policies should have been better. In the spirit of continuous improvement, we are committed to implementing the recommendations as noted in the attachment.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Captain Steven Gross, Audit and Accountability Bureau, at (323) 307-8302.
RESPONSE TO THE CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES – SHERIFF
SUBJECT: CONCEALED WEAPON LICENSES WITHIN THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR (STATE AUDITOR)
To ensure that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's (Los Angeles) Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) licensing decisions align with its CCW policy, Los Angeles should only issue licenses to applicants after collecting documentation of specific personal threats against the applicants so as to satisfy its definition of good cause. If Los Angeles believes that its public licensing policy does not include all acceptable good causes for a CCW license, then by March 2018, it should revise that policy and publish the new policy on its website. It should then immediately begin processing applications according to that revised policy.
Response: Do not concur. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been issuing CCWs consistent with its policies, procedures, and State law. Although the audit concluded the Department was not adhering to policy, this conclusion was based on inadequate documentation rather than evidence of policy violation. Our policies are currently aligned with State law and further defined whereas State law is broad. CCWs have been issued consistent with good cause although, we concur that documentation and retention thereof could be improved. We do not see a need to revise policy based on this audit, however, we recognize a potential need to clarify State law for consistent application throughout its counties.
To ensure that Los Angeles only issues licenses to individuals after receiving evidence of residency, firearms training, and good moral character that aligns with its policy, Los Angeles should only issue licenses after verifying that it has received this evidence. To avoid overlooking required evidence, Los Angeles should create procedures, by March 2018, for its staff to follow to ensure that each CCW file contains the evidence its policy requires before issuing the license.
Response: Concur in part. The Department has been issuing CCWs only after applicants have demonstrated good moral character, good cause exists, and residency of the County and firearms training. We agree to improve our process of documenting when an applicant demonstrates they have fulfilled the legal requirements necessary to obtain a CCW. We have therefore developed and implemented a checklist that will be completed before any license is issued, verifying that the file contains all necessary documentation of good moral character, good cause, residency, and training.
To ensure that Los Angeles is only charging fees that State law allows, Los Angeles should immediately cease charging applicants fees in addition to its license processing fee. Los Angeles should also reimburse applicants that paid these unallowable fees.
Response: Concur. As mentioned in the audit, the Department has stopped charging the additional fees and has consulted with the county's Auditor-Controller to implement a plan to reimburse individuals entitled to a refund.
If Los Angeles believes its license fee does not recover its entire cost of processing an initial application, it should complete a cost study and, if appropriate, revise its fee according to the results of that study and the maximum allowed fees under State law.
Response: Concur. The Department requested a cost study and will assess the results and, if appropriate, will revise the associated fees. The Department will also take into consideration of California Penal Code Section 26170(3)(b), which allows for the waiver of fees for Peace Officer as defined by Section 830.6.
CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR’S COMMENTS ON THE RESPONSE FROM THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
To provide clarity and perspective, we are commenting on Los Angeles's response to the audit. The numbers below correspond to the numbers we have placed in the margin of its response.
The copy of our report that we provided to Los Angeles for its response was redacted to include only information related to our review of Los Angeles. The department's response incorrectly refers to a general description of the report's subject matter as the title of the report.
Los Angeles has greatly mischaracterized our audit process, and its response ignores the multiple conversations we had with its staff throughout the audit to discuss our findings and recommendations. During our entrance conference, we discussed the audit's scope, purpose, and the audit standards we would be following with Los Angeles's staff. During our audit, the audit team was on-site in Los Angeles on multiple occasions gathering evidence, interviewing staff, and obtaining the department's perspective on the issues we identified. During our exit conference, we again explained the audit process and shared draft report text with the department. At that exit conference, we stressed the importance of continued communication about any concerns that Los Angeles may have about the planned report text. Accordingly, we continued to discuss the draft report with Los Angeles after our exit conference. We contacted Los Angeles multiple times during its five-day review period to ask if it had any concerns about the report text, and it did not communicate any concerns about the accuracy of our conclusions. Finally, our report includes direct perspective from Los Angeles about our conclusions, including in cases where Los Angeles had expressed disagreement. Los Angeles's response implies that it had an inadequate amount of time to provide perspective on our audit findings, but this is simply untrue.
Based on the number of exceptions to Los Angeles's policies we identified during our review, which are highlighted in Figure 1, we stand by our conclusion that its CCW program is marked by a consistent failure to follow its policies. Further, we disagree that we are misinterpreting Los Angeles's policy. We reviewed the department's policy and describe its good cause requirement in our report. To establish how Los Angeles applies its policy, we discussed the policy with its CCW manager and she informed us Los Angeles expects individuals to turn in documentation such as restraining orders or police reports, to demonstrate that direct, recent threats exist against them. Los Angeles issued 14 of the 25 licenses we reviewed without obtaining documentation that supported the applicants' written statements identifying specific, personal threats. We discuss how we found Los Angeles was inconsistent in how it treated applicants who did not submit documentation to support their claimed good cause. Specifically, Los Angeles denied licenses to applicants who described personal threats without providing supporting documentation but granted licenses to others who submitted similar good cause statements. On that same page, we also describe that 10 of the 25 issued licenses we reviewed were issued to applicants that did not even assert that they faced a specific, personal threat. As we explain in our report, these applications sometimes contained little more than a desire for self-protection that expressed knowledge that other individuals had been threatened or that described the applicants' professional duties. Therefore, we stand by our conclusion that the department failed to follow its policy related to good cause.
Our report appropriately presents the perspective of Los Angeles's staff. We acknowledge that the department's CCW manager has been in her position since June 2017, and we report that the lieutenant who is responsible for reviewing CCW applications felt it was inappropriate to speculate about the decision‑making process as it related to an application processed before he joined the CCW program. Further, Los Angeles's response appears to refer to a statement made by its lieutenant, where the lieutenant states that applicants from the law enforcement community met the good cause requirement because of the nature of their jobs. This is a direct contradiction of Los Angeles's written CCW policy, which states that "no position of job classification in itself shall constitute good cause for the issuance, or for the denial, of a CCW license."
Our report does not conclude that any of the licenses Los Angeles issued were granted unduly to individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. Our report concludes that most licenses we reviewed were not issued in accordance with Los Angeles's public CCW policy. The totality of our review makes it clear that Los Angeles accepted as "convincing evidence" different levels of support for an applicant's good cause based on the individual's occupation. This treatment of applicants is inequitable under Los Angeles's current policy, which does not state that it will review applications in this way and, specifically explains that an applicant's occupation will not in itself constitute good cause. It is disappointing to see that, in its response Los Angeles refuses to implement our recommendation related to this issue. That recommendation acknowledges that Los Angeles may need to revise its CCW policy to include all good causes for a CCW license. Doing so would increase the transparency of how Los Angeles makes CCW licensing decisions. Our report concludes that without such a policy, Los Angeles is unable to fully support its practice of determining that some applicants have good cause simply because of their occupations while denying licenses to other individuals who submit otherwise similar applications.
Los Angeles incorrectly asserts that it has issued CCW licenses in accordance with its policies. Figure 1 summarizes the exceptions to Los Angeles's policies and standards that we found in the 25 issued licenses we reviewed. Here, we describe how the department could not demonstrate that it followed its policy related to residency for any of the 25 licenses we reviewed. In Comment 3, we note the areas of our report that explain Los Angeles's failure to follow its good cause policy in 24 of the 25 licenses we reviewed. Further, in our report five of the files we reviewed did not contain proof of completed training and for three files we reviewed the department could not demonstrate that it had followed its practices related to good moral character.
We include perspective obtained during our audit from Los Angeles's chief legal advisor that the department would stop charging additional fees. However, when we followed up in October 2017 to determine if the department had stopped charging these fees, it was unable to demonstrate that it had. Therefore, we look forward to reviewing documentation to verify that Los Angeles has stopped charging unallowable fees when we review its next response to this recommendation, which is scheduled to be submitted to us 60 days after the issuance of our report.
Sacramento County Sheriff's Department
December 5, 2017
Elaine M. Howle, CPA
California State Auditor's Office
Re: Audit of Sacramento County Sheriff's Department's CCW permit process
Dear Ms. Howle,
The following serves as my response to the preliminary draft of the audit:
It is worthwhile to chronicle how this audit came to be, to provide both context and illustration to the process and its findings. In the 2016 legislative session, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, who is a former Sacramento City Councilmember, introduced two bills to modify existing CCW permit laws. Both of the bills would have made it more difficult and burdensome statewide to obtain a CCW permit. The Assemblyman is fundamentally and philosophically opposed to CCW permits. Both bills failed by October 2016, and in one of the bills' veto message Governor Brown correctly pointed out, "This bill was spurred by a local dispute in one county. I am unaware of a larger problem that merits a statewide change at this point."
Undeterred, Assemblymember McCarty threatened on social media on December 21st, 2016, to use the legislative audit function to intervene in my and others' CCW permit processes because of his legislative failures. This audit is a consummation of that threat.
Despite the questionable circumstances under which this audit was conceived, our team was accessible, assistive, and fully cooperative with the audit team, and I would be remiss if I didn't express how proud I am of my personnel for their facilitation of this audit.
This audit chronicled a number of criticisms, which I will address below, but it is also salient to note what the auditors did NOT find. They could not find that any permit was issued improperly or contrary to law. In fact, the auditors stated, "[W]e found no evidence that it did not comply with state law."
Further, they could not find that any permit was revoked improperly, or that the revocation itself was evidence that the permit should not have previously been issued. They state specifically, "[W]e cannot conclude that the prohibiting event is evidence that the individual was incorrectly granted a CCW license at the time of application." To the number of revocations in the Sheriff's Department, they correctly identified closer and more effective monitoring as the rationale. "Accordingly, we conclude that the number of revoked licenses could actually be higher because a licensing authority was more active in monitoring its license holders and revoking licenses even when such a revocation was not strictly required by law."
Finally, the audit concluded the subsidy required to fulfill our legal obligations in processing CCW permits, "has a negligible impact on the county budget," the Sheriff's Department has never asked the County for additional funds to cover the deficit, and in fact the Sheriff's Department has given more money back to the county each year, by coming in under budget, than the CCW program deficit.
In all, the audit in my estimation confirmed both the propriety and integrity of the Sheriff's Department's CCW process.
The audit was critical of various facets of the process, however. Although the audit team was provided with over 11,000 CCW records, most of their critical findings come from a "random" selection of 25 files. I will address each of these concerns in turn.
Audit Criticisms and Recommendations
The Sheriff's Department has inadequate written policies in place to ensure consistency and compliance in the CCW application process.
The audit team seemed frustrated by inadequate documentation in some application files relative to residency and background checks. While I can certainly appreciate that it would be much easier for an outside group completely unfamiliar with the process to view files which are identical and nicely indexed, it by no means indicates that the residency and backgrounds weren't adequately established in every single case. Policies, whether verbal or written, are meant to be guidelines and certainly cannot apply in every circumstance. Fundamental to the provision of governmental services of any kind is for employees to go out of their way to be assistive. While it is important to establish on our website what forms of residency we accept, to try and establish a baseline expectation, it is equally critical that we be flexible enough to use the considerable resources at our disposal to assist in that endeavor if and when necessary. This may result in a lack of a particular document for the file, but in no way indicates that the applicants' residence was not adequately and properly verified. The same is true of differing documentation relative to background checks. That documentation does in fact exist in every case, but often not neatly packaged in the CCW file. Our processes are designed to be effective and efficient—as all governmental services should be—without regard to the speculative and potential ease of a future audit. Although the audit team would have liked to see more of these policies reduced to written form, the fact remains that we DO have policies covering almost every facet of the CCW permit process.
That being said, we are currently examining the feasibility of the following:
- Establishing a file "checklist" to both ensure and document that each requisite of an application has been met,
- Examining which additional, if any, policies should be reduced to writing from their current non-written form, and
- Examining a potential different staffing model that allows for more consistency and longevity in the CCW unit.
The Sheriff's Department does not notify DOJ in every case when it revokes a CCW.
This was a requirement that was historically inconsistently applied, but has been remedied when brought to our attention by the audit team.
The Sheriff's Department's reason for an applicant's denial is sometimes inadequate.
There was much discussion during the pendency of the audit—and difference of opinion—on what information is required to be provided to an unsuccessful applicant as to the reason for the denial. While our denial reason is more general and the audit team wanted it to be more specific, we are in the process of conducting legal research and examining state-wide best practices relative to this issue.
The Sheriff's Department does not inform applicants that it can "opt out" of the $4 online processing charge.
The Sheriff's Department transitioned early this year to a more efficient, more cost effective online vendor for many of the CCW processes. The third-party vendor charges applicants $4 to use this system. Although we can and would process applications in the old manner and not have the applicant suffer the $4 charge, nobody has ever asked. In the overall financial and time burden to obtain a CCW permit, a $4 charge seems trivial.
Nonetheless, we have placed some clarifying language on the website on how applicants can opt out of the $4 fee and submit their application in the traditional manner, if they so choose. We still have had no such requests.
The Sheriff's Department does not charge the maximum allowed by statute for applications and renewals.
Putting aside for a moment the fact that a state auditor should neither care nor have any influence over what a County Sheriff's Department charges for any of its services, there exists in the current law confusing statutes relative to what can be charged for these services. Although the audit team disagrees with my analysis of the statute and asserts that I could have raised the application fees each year, as a member of the California State Bar, my legal analysis is different.
Penal Code section 26190 establishes the fees allowable for CCW application and renewal. Specifically, section 26190(b)(1) states in part, "the licensing authority may charge an additional fee in the amount equal to the actual costs for processing the application for a new license, …, but in no case to exceed $100… .(emphasis added)" Other sections detail the fees allowable for renewals and modifications at $25 and $10 respectively. There is one important distinction, however, between ALL of the other fees and the fee for the application; in all of the other fees the language used is that the amount "shall not exceed" the listed amount. In the application fee, however, it mandates that "in no case" shall it exceed $100. While the legislature could have made that particular section consistent with ALL the other sections, it did not. In the rules of statutory interpretation I am left to believe that particular language was intentionally chosen, and it must be given plain meaning. While the attorneys on the audit team clearly believe otherwise, I strongly believe that my interpretation of the statute is correct.
However, as indicated in their audit as a recommendation to the legislature, this issue could be easily remedied with some clarifying language added to the statute.
Despite the questionable manner in which this audit was birthed, I think it important to note that the audit team itself was quite professional and non-political. Although we had a rough start relative to each of our expectations of the other, and differences of opinions throughout the process, they remained professional, accessible, and reasonable. Further, despite some of the differences of opinion that this product resulted in, I believe it is a reasonable product of their perspective and I appreciate the team's efforts throughout this process.
Very Truly Yours,
SCOTT JONES, SHERIFF
California State Auditor's Comments on the Response From the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department
To provide clarity and perspective, we are commenting on Sacramento's response to the audit. The numbers below correspond to the numbers we have placed in the margin of its response.
The Sheriff offers his perspective on how this audit originated. It is important to note that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which is a bipartisan committee of the Legislature, reviewed and approved the request for this audit through its regular process for approving audits at a public hearing. This committee is composed of members from the Assembly and Senate and directed our office to audit the CCW licensing processes within three counties—not just Sacramento.
Sacramento misrepresents our discussion of locally initiated revocations. Here we discuss how the number of revoked licenses is not sufficient on its own to determine that the issuance criteria in state law need to be clarified. As support for our conclusion, we present on that page a discussion of locally initiated revocations as a possible explanation for why a licensing authority may have a higher number of revocations. Although we use Sacramento's revocation of license holders for DUI arrests as an example, we do not conclude, as Sacramento's response suggests, that Sacramento's revocation rate is higher due to what it states is its own closer and more effective monitoring.
Sacramento's response implies that our audit includes several conclusions about its CCW program and overall departmental fiscal condition, not all of which we actually conclude in our report. We state here that Sacramento's CCW program likely has a negligible impact on the county budget. Our report does not state that the Sheriff's department has never asked the county for additional funds to cover its program deficit or that the department has given money back to the county every year. Finally, we explain here that Sacramento was under budget for its general fund expenditures in fiscal year 2016–17 by more than $9 million, an amount that is larger than its CCW deficit. However, as we note on that same page, by using its resources on its CCW program, the department cannot use them for other purposes.
Sacramento is dismissive of the value that procedures could have for its CCW staff. As we indicate here, Sacramento does not have formal procedures for staff who process CCW applications to follow. Therefore, our review was based on a comparison of a selection of 25 CCW license files to the criteria found on the department's website, to internal guidance documents, and to the expectations verbally expressed by the assistant to the sheriff. As discussed in our report, our review identified eight instances in which the department did not document that it adhered to its standards for licensure in the area of residency proof and three instances in which the department did not document that it conducted local background checks to verify an applicant's good moral character. Further, we report that in three other instances the department collected training documents that did not align with its expectations for training. These inconsistencies show that Sacramento could benefit from creating formal procedures for the staff who process CCW applications to follow, as we recommend here. Despite the suggestion in Sacramento's response that a lack of procedures is merely frustrating to an outside auditor, it indicates in its response that it is considering changes such as a file checklist and formalizing its unwritten policies.
We look forward to reviewing whether Sacramento has improved its reporting of revocations of licenses to Justice when we review the documentation accompanying its next response, which we expect the department to submit to us 60 days after the issuance of our report.
Sacramento characterizes our finding related to its denial letters as being based on a preference, which is not true. In our report, we describe changes Sacramento made during our audit to the level of information it provides denied applicants. We describe how Sacramento made those changes after realizing that the level of detail in the denial letters it had sent during our audit period did not provide the information required by state law. However, we explain that most of the letters we reviewed that Sacramento sent to denied applicants after its change in practice still fell short of state law's requirement because they did not indicate which requirement the applicant failed to meet to obtain a CCW license, such as good cause. As we explain here, the plain language of the law requires licensing authorities to provide the requirement that an applicant did not meet. Therefore, as we explain, although Sacramento has taken some steps toward resolving the deficiencies in its denial letters, it has not yet ensured that it always complies with state law.
Despite Sacramento's perspective that the $4 convenience fee is a trivial amount when considering the overall financial and time burden to obtain a CCW license, state law prohibits licensing authorities from imposing any condition that requires applicants to pay any additional fees as a condition of the application for a license, as we explain here. We explain how, during our audit fieldwork, Sacramento had not informed applicants that they could avoid the additional fee by applying through some means other than its online application system. As Sacramento acknowledges in its response and as we describe here, the department now informs applicants on its website that they can apply at a department office, making both options for applying clear to applicants.
Sacramento appears to suggest that it was inappropriate for our audit to examine the fees it charges for CCW licenses. However, as we describe in Table 2 in the Introduction under Audit Objective 5, the fees the department charges, as well as the related areas of program surpluses or deficits and the fiscal effect of the CCW program on the county budget, were all included in the scope of the audit that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee directed us to perform. Accordingly, we examined the fees Sacramento charges for CCW licenses and compared those fees to the criteria in state law, the analysis of which we describe here. In doing so, we determined that state law allows licensing authorities to charge more for CCW license activities, such as initial licenses and renewed licenses, than Sacramento was charging. We also found, as we show in Table 6, that Sacramento's CCW program operated at a deficit in each year of our audit period. As we observe on that page, by using other county resources to cover its program deficits, Sacramento cannot use those resources for other purposes. Together, this information led us to recommend here, that Sacramento should perform a cost study and upon completion of the study raise its fees to the maximum extent the law allows. Such a recommendation is well within the purview of our office.
Sacramento explains that it disagrees with our conclusions about the allowable maximum fees, a disagreement that we already acknowledge. However, we state that licensing authorities vary in their interpretations of the state law that limits the maximum processing fee for initial and renewal applications and amendments to CCW licenses. Accordingly, we have recommended that the Legislature amend the law to clarify that licensing authorities can increase fees for CCW applications, renewals, and amendments above the maximum amounts in state law, subject to the conditions the law outlines.
San Diego County Sheriff's Department
December 1, 2017
Ms. Elaine M. Howle
California State Auditor
621 Capitol Mall, Suite 1200
Sacramento, California 95814
State Auditor Howle:
This letter is in response to your draft audit report on Concealed Weapon Licenses. In March of this year, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee directed you to look at three California licensing agencies, and 1) identify the number of CCW licenses issued, modified, denied, and revoked by year,2) identify fiscal information about concealed-carry programs across the three licensing agencies, 3) identify whether those agencies were consistently following existing laws and enforcing department processes, and 4) identify whether the statutory "good cause" requirement needs clarifying.
The draft report appears to make several statements that are not supported by citation to data collected by the auditor that would provide context for the reader of the report. For example, on page one of the report you state that "[w]e found that San Diego did not always comply with its policies and procedures when it issued ... some licenses." However, the text of your draft report fails to clearly identify what, if any, policies and procedures were violated when licenses were supposedly issued without following department policy. The draft report also fails to help the reader to understand how many licenses you are saying that you found to have been issued that failed to comply with department policy and procedure.
Another example of a lack of clarity in the statements contained within the draft report is the statement that "San Diego's renewal process has weaknesses that have led it to renew some licenses inappropriately." The term inappropriately does not inform the reader as to whether you are alleging that a department policy was not followed, or whether you are alleging that the renewal of a particular CCW license did not comply with California law. This is an important distinction, because a failure to comply with department policy doesn't necessarily mean that the renewal applicant didn't qualify for renewal under state law. As you are no doubt aware, California law simply says that a Sheriff may issue a license to a person upon proof of all of the following: that the person is of good moral character, that good cause exists for issuance of the license, that the applicant is a resident of the jurisdiction, and that the applicant has completed a course of training. California law fails, however, to provide guidance on what type of, and how much, proof is necessary to meet these requirements. As a result, issuing agencies all across the state have had to try and interpret the legislative intent behind California's requirements.
1. Identification of the number of CCW licenses issued, modified, denied, and revoked by year.
The Department does not take issue with the number of licenses identified in Table 4, as being issued, denied, renewed, revoked, and suspended during the three-year period identified by the audit. However, the methodology portion of the draft report states that you were unable to determine the number of amended CCW licenses for the Department, "because the information was not tracked reliably in its database." This statement may be interpreted by the reader to mean that the Department has failed to properly keep records, when in fact the Department maintains individual files that contain all of the records required to be maintained pursuant to Penal Code §26225(a), including the amendment of a license or the denial of an amendment to a license. Further, the Department complies with Penal Code §26225(b) by immediately filing the amendment of a license or denial of an amendment to a license with the Department of Justice. Finally, although the Licensing Database does not track all of the information sought by the auditors, some of the information sought is maintained in an Excel spreadsheet by the licensing bureau.
2. Identify fiscal information about the concealed-carry program.
As the draft report indicates, a cost study estimate completed in fiscal year 2011-12 concluded that the cost to process an initial application was $2,700. The Department charges a fee of $63 for an initial license application and about $21for an application to renew. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department recognizes and agrees that its CCW licensing program does not operate as a full cost recovery program. There are legitimate reasons for keeping the fees for issuance of a CCW license low. The job of the Sheriff is to ensure the safety of the public. Those applicants who receive a CCW license have provided proof of good cause for needing to carry a concealed weapon. More specifically, they have set forth a set of circumstances which cause them to be placed in harm's way, and that distinguishes them from other members of the general public. It would be counterintuitive, and not good policy, to place a high fee that would deter someone who otherwise qualifies from applying for a CCW license, especially when they have a genuine necessity to obtain one.
It should also be noted that the draft report once again makes a statement that is not supported by citation to data collected by the auditor when it states "(w]e assumed that increased fees would not affect the number of applicants who applied for an initial or renewal license..." There is no basis in fact or data cited in the draft report to support this assumption . On the contrary, common sense tells us that when costs go up some people can't afford items that they need, or simply choose to forgo them. A rise in the cost of CCW licenses would, more likely than not, have this effect.
3. Identify whether the agency is consistently following existing laws and enforcing department processes.
a. State law
As it relates to the issuance of CCW licenses, the Department agrees with the draft report that its "policy is permissible under the broad discretion given by state law."
As it relates to the revocation of CCW licenses when a person becomes a prohibited person, the draft report states that the department did not follow the law in all cases. Specifically, the draft report identified two cases where the Department of Justice notified the department of two prohibited persons. Those persons had already voluntarily surrendered their CCW licenses prior to the Department of Justice notification. According to the draft report, the auditor believes that California law requires a licensing agency to revoke a license and notify the Department of Justice, even though the license holder is no longer in possession of the license and has voluntarily surrendered it to the licensing agency. The issue revolves around whether or not state law requires a licensing authority to revoke a license, and make the necessary notifications, if a prohibited person has already surrendered his license prior to the Department of Justice notifying the licensing agency of his prohibited person status. State law addresses revocations, however, it is silent on the issue of surrendered licenses. As a result, the department has not revoked or reported surrendered or suspended licenses. The Department has gotten inconsistent responses from the Department of Justice as recently as November 8, 2017, as to whether or not it is obligated to revoke and report surrendered or suspended licenses. In preparation for this letter, the auditors informed the department that the director of the Bureau of Firearms would like to be notified of surrenders and suspensions of CCW licenses. The department has agreed to make those notifications, despite the fact that they are not specifically required in the Penal Code.
b. Department processes
The draft report contains statements that don't accurately portray the department's policies when it discusses good moral character and good cause. The draft report indicates that the department does not issue CCW licenses to individuals "who have had numerous negative contacts with law enforcement." This is not accurate. While it is true that department policy states that "CCW licenses are not granted under good moral character for anyone under any form of probation," the policy does not state that numerous negative contacts with law enforcement, in and of itself, is disqualifying. Rather the policy lists several items that are considered in the determination of good moral character, including arrests, convictions,and citations, none of which are necessarily a de-facto preclusion to obtaining a CCW license.
As it relates to good moral character, a review of the data for Figure 1,indicates that the auditors review of 25 CCW licenses found that the department adhered to its policy, procedures, and stated practices as it pertained to the good moral character requirement for the issuance of both initial licenses and renewed licenses.
The draft report also states that the department "does not consider an applicant's stated desire to obtain a license for self-defense sufficient cause." As stated above, California law requires proof that good cause exists for the issuance of a CCW license. The department does not believe that an applicant who simply states that they desire a CCW license for self-defense, without more, has provided the requisite proof that good cause exists to obtain a CCW license under California law. However, an applicant who needs a CCW for self-defense, and who provides the requisite proof that good cause exists, can obtain a CCW for self-defense.
As it relates to California's residency requirement, the department requires an applicant to be a resident of the county or a city within the county, or the applicant's principal place of employment or business has to be in the county or a city within the county and the applicant must spend a substantial period of time in that place of employment or business. As with each of the CCW license requirements,proof must be provided. The department doesn't specify exactly what proof is required, as residency can be proven using a myriad of items, but it does require two documents to establish residency. In the department's documentation checklist, it states that "[d]ocuments must have the applicant's name, such as monthly utility bills, receipts, etc. dated within 30 days of the 2"d interview." However, the department's CCW Policy and Procedure Outline, does not include the 30-day requirement for monthly bills and receipts, but rather simply provides examples that include "unpaid utility bills that lists applicant's name and residence address,lease agreements, property tax statements."
The draft report identified 11files that were reviewed where at least one of the two proofs of residency was beyond the 30-day requirement set forth in the Department's document checklist. According to the draft report, the documents were from two to 64 days past the 30-day Iimit. A review of the individual files indicated licensing clerks accepted monthly residency documentation if the bill due date was within the prescribed 30 day time period, as opposed to the cycle date of the actual bill. The goal of the documentation requirement for residency is to ensure that the applicant is a resident of the licensing agency's jurisdiction. While the audit report does not indicate that any of the issued or renewed applications were incorrectly issued to applicants who did not qualify under state law, the department recognizes the differences in the CCW Policy and Procedure Outline and Documentation Checklist, as well as the need for clarity and training on the 30 day limit. As a result, the department will review both documents and make sure that they accomplish the department's stated goal of ensuring compliance with the State's residency requirements for the issuance of a CCW license. Once completed, further training will be provided to the licensing clerks.
As it relates to good cause, the draft report states that "San Diego could benefit from evaluating its current expectations for good cause documentation and setting standards for the type of documents that is sufficient to satisfy its requirement." However, the draft report fails to provide any examples of the types and amounts of documents that could be used as a standard. In a meeting with the auditors in preparation for the draft report, they were also unable to provide any specific standards that could be used given that the burden of proving good cause is on the applicant, and the determination of whether the requirement is met is made on an individualized case by case basis. That said, the department has recently updated its website to indicate the types of situations which, upon proof, might establish good cause. Licensing staff have already been trained on the department's goal of ensuring that those persons who present proof of good cause,and meet all other qualifications, be issued a CCW if they so request. It should be noted, however, that a review of the underlying data for Figure 1,indicates that the auditors review of 25 CCW licenses found that the department adhered to its policy, procedures, and stated practices as it pertained to the good cause requirement for the issuance of initial licenses,and only found one deviation from policy and procedure as it relates to a renewed license. While the renewal application should have contained a good cause statement, the applicant operated an established business for which he was issued a CCW license since 2009. The license was based on business purposes and was still in operation at the time of renewal in 2015. The department has provided additional training to the licensing clerk to ensure that the necessary information is completed on all renewals.
As it relates to training, a review of the underlying data for Figure 1,indicates that the auditor's review of 25 CCW licenses found that the department adhered to its policy, procedures, and stated practices as it pertained to the training requirement for the issuance of all initial licenses except for a member of the Coast Guard. Penal Code §26165 provides that "the course of training may be any course acceptable to the licensing authority,and shall not exceed 16 hours, and shall include instruction on at least firearm safety and the law regarding the permissible use of a firearm." At the time of issuance,the department reviewed the Coast Guard member's military training, weapons qualification, and competency report, and made a determination that the Coast Guard members training not only met, but exceeded the departments training requirements for the issuance of a CCW license. The other file that was alleged to have been found to demonstrate that the department did not adhere to its policy and procedures related to training, indicated in Figure 1,was for the renewal of a CCW license on July 14, 2015. After review of the actual file the department located a training safety certificate issued on May 16, 2015 for the renewal applicant.
4. Identify whether the statutory "good cause" requirement needs clarifying.
It is clear that the statutory good cause requirement sets forth a requirement without defining its parameters. The legislature's failure to define good cause has subjected licensing agencies up and down the state to litigation. From the public's perspective, the failure to define good cause has led to unequal and arbitrary treatment by those licensing agencies who are attempting to comply with the good cause requirement.
The requirements for obtaining a CCW license are set forth by the state legislature, including that licenses and applications are required to be uniform throughout the state, and the Department of Justice is in integral part of the process for the issuance of a CCW license. While the state has clearly occupied the field of CCW licensing prescribing everything from the proof that is required to obtain a license, to the applications that must be completed, to the fees can be charged, the department appreciates the auditor's analysis of the varying standards used throughout the state. The department agrees with the auditors that local jurisdictions are in the best position to determine what is best for their communities when it comes to issuing CCW licenses.
The draft report recommends that licensing staff establish a routine supervisory review of a selection of renewed licenses. The department agrees with this recommendation and will establish a policy requiring the routine supervisory review of random renewed licenses, effective immediately.
The draft report recommends that the department develop guidance and train its staff on what good cause documentation staff should request from applicants. The department agrees with this recommendation and has recently updated its website and training to reflect its goal of ensuring that those persons who present proof of good cause, and meet all other qualifications, be issued a CCW if they so request.
The draft report recommends that the department should train its staff regarding the expected documents for residency and training. The department agrees with this recommendation, and based on the results of the audit, will be clarifying the documents expected for residency and providing updated training to its staff.
The draft report recommends that the department immediately revoke CCW licenses and should then inform Justice that it has revoked licenses whenever license holders become prohibited persons, and should notify Justice when it suspends a license or a license is surrendered. The department agrees with this recommendation and has agreed to notify Justice when a license is suspended or surrendered.
The draft report recommends that the department immediately pursue increasing its initial, renewal, and amendment fees to the maximum amount allowable under state law. The Department does not agree with this recommendation for the reasons stated above, and as such it will not be implemented.
The department has reviewed the redacted report and looks forward to reading the entire un-redacted report. The audit process is important and can provide important information for forward looking departments like ours who are constantly looking to improve the quality of the services that we provide. While the department has already begun implementing the recommendations contained within the draft report, we also hope that this response, will help our office make any necessary clarifications in the final un-redacted report.
William D. Gore, Sheriff
California State Auditor's Comments on the Response From the San Diego County Sheriff's Department
To provide clarity and perspective, we are commenting on San Diego's response to the audit. The numbers below correspond to the numbers we have placed in the margin of its response.
San Diego incorrectly asserts that our report makes unsupported statements. The statement that San Diego highlights appears within the Summary of our report. Our report clearly communicates the different policies or procedures that San Diego has established to implement its CCW program. The cases in which we found the department did not follow those policies or procedures are discussed here. Therefore, contrary to San Diego's assertion, there is ample context in our report describing the policies and procedures that the department failed to follow when issuing some of the licenses we reviewed. Additionally, Figure 1 presents the number of exceptions to the department's policies we found across each of the four key criteria from state law.
Our report makes clear that the conclusion San Diego inappropriately renewed some licenses is based on a comparison of license files we reviewed to the expectations described in San Diego's policies and procedures. For example, here we explain that San Diego requires at least two documents, such as a utility bill, lease agreement, or property tax statement, to demonstrate residence. However, as we indicate here, we found the department repeatedly renewed one applicant's license without obtaining any documentation related to his residency. The full discussion of the results of our review of a selection of San Diego's issued licenses appears in our report and clearly communicates that San Diego did not issue some licenses in accordance with its policies.
Our report text for Objective 2 makes it clear that San Diego did not reliably track license amendments in its database. We do not imply that it failed to keep adequate records of amendments in the individual license files it maintains.
We report here San Diego's licensing manager's concern that raising the license fee too high could make obtaining a CCW license too expensive. However, San Diego's response misrepresents the assumption we make in our report regarding the number of applicants who would apply for a license. We also explain in our report that we applied the same assumptions about demand for licenses in calculating our estimates of additional revenue in both Sacramento and San Diego. We included the assumption about demand to be clear about our methods for calculating the estimated revenue that could be generated from an increased fee. We do not ever conclude that demand would be unaffected if San Diego were to increase its fees. Finally, it is worth noting that state law does not require licensing authorities, such as San Diego, to charge any processing fees.
San Diego largely restates perspective and discussion that we have already included in our report. We provide San Diego's licensing manager's explanation that the department did not revoke two licenses that had already been surrendered by the license holders because the department considered those licenses no longer active. As we explain, state law does not speak to whether a license is inactive simply because the license holder is no longer in possession of the license. However, state law does clearly state that licensing authorities must revoke licenses when license holders become prohibited persons. Therefore, we recommend that San Diego revoke licenses whenever license holders become prohibited persons. We also recommend that San Diego notify Justice when it suspends a license or a license is surrendered. In its response, San Diego indicates that it agrees with our recommendation.
San Diego is not correct when it states that it has not revoked or reported surrendered or suspended licenses. During our audit, we found that San Diego reported several of the surrendered or suspended licenses we reviewed to Justice, although it did not always consistently report surrenders as we note here.
San Diego inaccurately describes its policy related to good moral character. In our report, we explain that the department's procedures state the department does not issue CCW licenses to individuals who are under any form of probation or who have had numerous negative contacts with law enforcement. The procedures we refer to are in the department's CCW policy and procedure outline which specifically states, "The long-standing policy of this department is to approve applications unless the applicant…has had numerous negative law enforcement contacts or is on probation of any sort." Further, San Diego indicates that it believes we have misstated its policy with regard to good cause. Specifically, our report explains that San Diego does not consider an applicant's stated desire to obtain a license for self-defense sufficient cause. In its response, San Diego does not dispute this is its policy. Therefore, we are unsure what San Diego believes we have misstated about its approach to assessing good cause.
It is unclear to us why San Diego expects us to define for it what good cause documentation it should collect. In our report, we include the licensing manager's perspective that certain business-related documents are more essential to an applicant proving good cause than others. On that same page, we describe how San Diego at times has requested documentation that it later determined was not necessary for the issuance of a license. Based on our review, we conclude that San Diego could benefit from evaluating its current expectations for good cause documentation and setting standards for the types of documents that are sufficient to satisfy its requirements. Later in its response, San Diego agrees with our recommendation and indicated it had included examples of good cause documentation on its website.
San Diego asserts that the renewed license we discuss here was given for business purposes and that the related business was in operation at the time of the renewal in 2015. It is unclear to us how San Diego would have had this assurance at the time of the renewal in 2015. As we describe in our report, San Diego renewed this applicant's license without collecting any documentation related to the applicant's good cause, which in this case was related to the applicant's business.
We explain in detail our reasons for concluding that San Diego issued a license to a member of the Coast Guard without verifying that the individual had satisfied San Diego's training requirements. At no point during our discussions with San Diego about this application did the department present us with an analysis that showed it had assessed the applicant's training as exceeding its training requirements, as San Diego indicates in its response. On the contrary, as we explain here, the department argued that the applicant was exempt from the training requirements because of a departmental memo exempting active peace officers. However, as we state, the applicant does not fall under the exceptions outlined in the department's memo.
We discuss the renewed license that San Diego refers to in its response here. We reviewed the application file for the applicant's 2015 renewal and discussed our conclusion that the file lacked training documentation with the licensing manager months before sharing the draft audit report with San Diego for its comment. Despite this fact and again sharing our conclusions about this renewal with San Diego at our exit conference, it was not until its written response to our draft report that it indicated to us that it was in possession of training documents relevant to the 2015 renewal. After receiving San Diego's response, we contacted San Diego and it provided us a copy of the training documents. A supervisor in its licensing division informed us that the certificate was in a separate part of the license file and was not attached with the rest of the documentation for the 2015 renewal. Based on this new information, we have modified our report text and Figure 1 to no longer identify this license renewal as an example where San Diego did not follow its policies for firearms training.
The perspective on state law that San Diego provides in its response is markedly different than the perspective the sheriff provided to us during our audit. San Diego's response states that the Legislature has failed to define good cause and that this failure has subjected licensing authorities to litigation. When we spoke with the sheriff to obtain his perspective on the discretion that the law provides to local licensing authorities, he did not express concern about this level of discretion. In fact, as we state in our report, the sheriff observed that the needs of local jurisdictions vary and agreed that the law provides those jurisdictions the ability to set their CCW policies accordingly. Further, San Diego's own response displays some ambivalence about the clarity of the good cause requirement. In its response San Diego simultaneously claims the Legislature has failed to define parameters for good cause and also states that it believes local jurisdictions are in the best position to determine what is best for their communities when it comes to issuing CCW licenses.
As we explain in Comment 4, we have already included in our report San Diego's perspective on why it has not raised CCW fees. Our analysis, described here, concludes that San Diego's CCW program likely operates at a deficit, a conclusion that San Diego appears to agree with in its response. If implemented, our recommendation to raise fees would align San Diego's CCW revenue with the allowable maximums under state law. As we describe in multiple places in our report, the allowable maximum fees are already subject to restrictions in state law that prohibit them from being any higher than actual costs or growth in the CCPI.