SLC Sheriff's Office taking over all aspects of concealed carry background investigations

Posted 2/25/24

CANTON -- The St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office will soon take over all aspects of concealed carry background checks in hopes of expediting the process and eliminating extensive delays for …

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SLC Sheriff's Office taking over all aspects of concealed carry background investigations


CANTON -- The St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office will soon take over all aspects of concealed carry background checks in hopes of expediting the process and eliminating extensive delays for applicants.

Sheriff Rick Engle addressed county legislators during the Feb. 12 operations committee meeting, during which time he also requested the elimination of a deputy position to subsequently add a detective's position.

Engle said that switch would be for the deputy who has been handling pistol permit applications for the last eight years, including extensive numbers of background checks.

More applicants

"The decision was made based on the fact that he took over the responsibility of concealed carry background checks eight years ago," Engle said of the proposed change.

According to Engle, the Sheriff's Office has seen between 300 to 350 applications every year, with spikes occurring over the last two years.

That demand has led to background investigations being outsourced to other agencies, including municipal police and state police, which has led to numerous delays.

The Sheriff's Office was responsible for all intake of applications, including photos, fingerprints and mental health hygiene database checks but after that point criminal background investigations, reference checks and interviews could potentially be conducted by any police agency depending on demand, Engle said.

"I dedicated someone to the role full-time. He seems to be staying ahead of things right now and we check in weekly. Things are going to plan so far," Engle said.

At times when applications spike, Engle said the deputy does receive some assistance from a part-time deputy when they are not doing transportations for the county correctional facility.

The change to handling all background checks in house comes from Engle's time on the campaign trail over the past year, saying he heard from "tens of thousands of residents" who continually asked why the Sheriff's Office was not handling the entirety of the investigations.

"That's what the people want and that's what we're going to do," Engle said.

No more delays

Engle also spoke to the delays many applicants experienced with other police agencies.

"There were some agencies that would take a very long time to turn these around," he said.

On average, the Sheriff's Office completes the process in roughly three months, he said. But in speaking to constituents, Engle said many told him of delays of 14 months to two years in some cases.

"I don't think it's fair to wait that long," Engle said.

Engle touched on his experience as a detective in recent years, a role that saw him handle numerous applications himself.

When the new concealed carry requirements were put in place with the Concealed Carry Improvement Act in 2022, many applicants who had applied well in advance of the effective date were still forced to undergo an 18 hour course and more extensive background check because of the significant delays.

"I've been involved in this. Because the process was delayed (with other agencies), these people were denied a concealed carry permit because they fell in those timelines." Engle said.

Engle said a few hundred people were affected by the new laws despite having applied months before they were passed.

Less intrusive 

Engle was also critical of the state's inclusion of a questionnaire that required applicants to disclose a full list of firearms that were already in the home at the time of the application being submitted.

"It's not my business, it's not your (the legislature's) business, it's nobody's business what firearm a person lawfully owns," Engle said.

Engle said that questionnaire violates the Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of applicants.

"I'm not here to build a database. I'm here to protect your constitutional rights," he said.

Despite outlining why Engle needed the deputy position abolished for a detective position to handle applications, Legislator Joseph Lightfoot voiced opposition to the proposal.

Staffing concerns

Lightfoot said that it should fall to the road patrol to conduct investigations, as had been done for years, instead of adding a detective position.

"It would seem to me that if you've got a number of road deputies that, at the time maybe they could then, perhaps they don't have the time now, I don't know but it seems to me that's the way to keep doing it," he said.

Lightfoot said he was not in favor of the change because he did not want to then see a request coming down the line to add an additional deputy's position to replace the one being eliminated.

"I'm going to tell you and believe me it's nothing personal, I am against creating a new position. Not just in your department but any department," he said.

"Will you be back looking to fill that position," he asked.

"I can't tell you no," Engle said.

"I know darn well that isn't going to fly. The Sheriff is going to come back and say he needs that position," Lightfoot responded.

Engle said it was not a concern right now because "there is nobody to hire anyway," also noting that "someone has to pay for this."

"I'm a taxpayer too, I know someone has to pay for this. But before I make a decision, I think it through. I'm not in a hurry to ask for this position," Engle said.

"But if it comes at a point and time and I can't provide the service I need to provide for the people, I'm going to have to come back and ask for it," Engle continued.

Regarding the money involved in conducting background checks, Legislator Glenn Webster informed Engle he was told that municipal police departments receive some sort of stipend to conduct those background investigations, a practice he wants to end if the Sheriff's Office is handling all aspects of background investigations.

"If you're doing them it should be returned back to the sheriff's department," he said.

Engle said he was unaware of any such stipend but confirmed he would ensure all funds would remain with the Sheriff's Office for completing the work.

Legislators Harry Smithers and John Burke both complemented the sheriff for his diligence regarding the process.

"You're fresh off the campaign trail and having talked to a number of people, clearly it's a big concern and you would know those concerns," Burke said.

In the end, legislators did not take any action to abolish the deputy position or to add a detective position during the meeting but Engle did reiterate that the deputy would continue on in the role to primarily conduct background investigations and would fill in on larger crimes "as needed," such as homicides, fatal motor vehicle accidents and major drug crimes.