Public can access P.G. gun offender registry

Lawyer says it can’t be confidential

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A registry of gun offenders that Prince George’s County police are scheduled to implement next month must be made available to the public, the Maryland attorney general’s office says.

In a letter addressing county officials’ concern over whether data collected through the registry would be subject to Maryland Public Information Act requests, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe wrote that she believed the registry “would be a public document.”

“It is also my view that the county could not, by ordinance, make the registry confidential,” she continued.

Whether information collected by police would be made public was one of the lingering questions left about the new program after the Prince George’s County Council unanimously passed a law authorizing the registry earlier this month.

County police pushed for the registry as a way to help reduce gun-related violence by allowing them to closely monitor people convicted of gun-related offenses. Those convicted would be required to register with the police department upon their release from jail, provide home and work contact information, and meet with police at least twice a year for three years.

County Council member Mary A. Lehman said she did not expect that the registry would be made into a searchable database, such as the national sex offender registry.

During a meeting Thursday, the Prince George’s County Council Public Safety and Fiscal Management Committee voted in favor of a resolution that outlined further protocols to be followed in the police department’s administration of the registry.

The County Council will still have to vote on the resolution, but County Council member Karen Toles said the adoption of specific operating procedures is meant to avoid the legal battle that a similar program in Baltimore faced. A Circuit Court judge there ruled in 2011 that a registry was unconstitutional because its regulations were too vague.

“We saw where they fell short and wanted to address that,” county police official Maj. Everett Sesker said, adding that county police worked closely with Baltimore police on the development of their registry.

County police also studied the use of gun offender registries in New York City, Chicago, and the District, Maj. Sesker said.

Given the level of gun violence in the county, Maj. Sesker estimated that within three years, Prince George’s County’s program could have 1,400 registrants. Prior offenders will not be grandfathered into the registry, so only those people convicted of gun crimes after the law takes effect will be required to submit their information to the police department, he said.

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