SEATTLE - Tougher laws, more background checks and police buy-backs are all controversial efforts aimed at ending gun violence in the state.
Not many people agree that the efforts will make a difference, but one thing everyone does agree on is someone at least should be keeping weapons out of the hands of dangerous criminals.
KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Amy Clancy investigated a program that keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals.
Geoff Ehrhart is a Community Corrections Officer for the Washington state Department of Corrections. He knocked on the door of a house of someone who he knows is dangerous.
“Jeremiah, open the door. It’s the DOC,” said Ehrhart.
Ehrhart’s job is to make sure convicted felons follow the terms of their release, and do not have access to alcohol, drugs and especially firearms.
“I think these people have proven, through their criminal history, that they are at risk to re-offend,” said Ehrhart. “So I think keeping weapons out of these peoples’ hands is extremely important.”
KIRO 7 rode along with Ehrhart when he visited three of the nearly 40 offenders he supervises.
The offenders are either out of prison after serving time for violent crimes, such as robbery, assault or murder, or being supervised instead of prison.
Ehrhart always has backup with him.
Unlike the police, who require warrants, all a community corrections officer needs to fully search an offender’s body, car or home, is anything in plain view that would violate the offender’s terms of release.
In the home of Charles “Carlos” Tucker, an empty beer can was found.
“Even a small thing such as a beer can, can be the key to opening up a bigger case,” said Ehrhart.
Ehrhart’s immediate search of Tucker’s home soon revealed a safe hidden in the kitchen.
Inside the safe was a stolen handgun, a pistol-grip shotgun, ammo and two ounces of methamphetamine. Tucked beside Tucker’s bed, within reach, was a Glock.
Ehrhart said he always searches unannounced.
“If you go out to someone’s house at 9:30 on a Friday, you’re going to see what they’re really doing,” Ehrhart said.
Jeremiah Catron-Black wasn’t expecting Ehrhart during a visit.
“We found a gun box that does not have a gun in it,” said Detective Cary Coblantz of the Shoreline Police Department.
The locked, empty box once held the gun Catron-Black used to threaten a tow truck driver. The box was not a violation of his community custody.
A routine check revealed a warrant for something else.
“So Jeremiah, we have a warrant for your arrest,” said Coblantz.
Despite being busted again, Catron-Black admitted the visits from his community corrections officer keep him from possessing a weapon.
“I like to shoot, so I’ll be honest. Yes, absolutely. I would love to have a gun,” said Catron-Black. “But because of the fact that, if I had a gun, it would be a very big problem for me. I’m not going to do it.”
Due to the warrant, Catron-Black was arrested again and taken to jail.
“I get it. I like guns. You like guns. But again, I’m the one with the badge, and you’re the one with the supervision, right?” said Ehrhart.
Whether Catron-Black or any other offender found with contraband goes to prison for any length of time depends on whether prosecutors file new criminal charges and whether the suspect is convicted and sentenced.
This is not an automatic “Go-To-Jail” card.
Marcus Williams is back behind bars. A search routine visit to Ehrhart’s office yielded bullets inside Williams’ car.
Williams’ phone had a picture of an AK-47-style assault rifle.
“We actually found the assault rifle and an extra magazine and a bunch of ammo,” said Ehrhart after searching Williams’ home.
There are currently 661 community corrections officers statewide working to keep guns out of the hands of more than 15,000 felons.
It is unknown what would have happened if Ehrhart had not found the weapons in the homes of Williams and Tucker, but he calls their new prison time his version of a success story.
“We’re able to protect people and make it so that less people are victimized, and that’s a big part of our job,” said Ehrhart.
The Department of Corrections told Clancy the job of a community corrections officer is tougher now than it has ever been.
Since 2009, budget cuts have taken 500 officers off the job, but the total number of offenders was cut by nearly half. The most dangerous are still being supervised. More than a third of the offenders are considered at high risk to commit another violent crime.