Joshua C. Hausman, Esq., Campbell Durrant, P.C. | April 2022
Pennsylvania municipal police officers subject to protection from abuse orders containing firearm relinquishment requirements have always been subject to suspension or revocation of their Act 120 certification by the Municipal Police Officers Training Commission (“MPOETC”). What some municipal employers may not know is that amendments to Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act and Uniform Firearms Act, which went into effect in 2019, changed the law to require all final protection from abuse orders to order the relinquishment of firearms. Correspondingly, the Uniform Firearms Act was revised to prohibit the possession of firearms by those subject to such orders. As a result, it is now the case that every police officer subject to a final protection from abuse order will face the suspension or revocation of their Act 120 certification. Municipal employers should be aware of this change in the law.
MPOETC’s enabling legislation, known as “Act 120,” requires that all municipal police officers be trained and certified in accordance with the standards promulgated by MPOETC before being employed as a law enforcement officer for compensation. In addition to the power to certify officers, the statute provides MPOETC with the ability to suspend or revoke the certification of police officers following a hearing and an opportunity to be heard before an appointed hearing examiner. Under regulations adopted by MPOETC, an officer’s certification may be suspended or revoked for certain enumerated offenses, including but not limited to a failure to maintain employment as a police officer, a failure to obtain an annual firearms qualification, and a conviction for a disqualifying criminal offense. A “disqualifying criminal offense” is a criminal offense punishable by more than one (1) year in prison.
Under the Protection from Abuse Act, a court upon petition may ex parte issue a temporary protection from abuse order which can include a requirement that the named defendant relinquish any firearms in their possession to the county sheriff. Prior to April of 2019, the Act further provided that a final protection from abuse order, issued following a full evidentiary hearing could—but was not required to—include a firearm relinquishment requirement as well. However, Act 79 of 2018 amended the law to provide that any final protection from abuse order—as distinct from a protection from abuse consent agreement—must include the requirement that the defendant be prohibited from possessing firearms and must relinquish their firearms and licenses for the duration of the order. Consistent with these changes, Act 79 also amended the Uniform Firearms Act to prohibit the possession of firearms by any person who is the subject of a final protection from abuse order or a temporary protection from abuse order which contains a firearm relinquishment requirement. As amended, a person subject to a temporary protection from abuse order with a firearms possession/relinquishment requirement, or any final protection from abuse order, commits a misdemeanor of the second by failing to relinquish a firearm.
Act 79 further amended the Uniform Firearms Act to prohibit the possession of firearms by any person prohibited from possessing firearms under the federal Gun Control Act, which in relevant part makes it unlawful for any person to possess a firearm who is subject to a protection from abuse or similar court order which contained certain findings relative to the subject person and the threat they pose to intimate partners or their children.
As a result, a police officer who is subject to a final protection from abuse order, which must contain a firearm relinquishment requirement under the revised law, or who is subject to a court order meeting the requirements to make it unlawful for the officer to possess a firearm under federal law, will have their Act 120 certification suspended or revoked due to their inability to fulfill their firearm qualification requirement, and will therefore be unable to perform their duties as police officers. Public employers should be aware of this change in the law due to the impact on disciplinary proceedings which are likely to arise in conjunction with abuse accusations made against police officers by their partners or others. The attorneys at Campbell Durrant are ready to assist public employers with navigating disciplinary proceedings in light of these important considerations.