FLA goes hi-tech - Agency overhauls system to arrest corruption
Breaches of previous systems at the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) have forced the entity to now implement a technologically driven structure that limits corruption and improves efficiency, according to chief executive officer (CEO) Shane Dalling.
For roughly two years, the state authority, which is responsible for issuing firearm permits and regulating the use of legal guns, has been marred by reports of corruption.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday at the FLA’s offices in St Andrew, Dalling shared a number of changes that have occurred at the authority since irregularities there became public.
He noted that the main cause of the delays that the agency faced was an old system.
The upgrades of the system have resulted in hundreds of unqualified customers being stripped of licences, while others have been commending the team for faster turnaround times.
“One of the greatest challenges that the country faces in terms of corruption is delay and uncertainty. When processes are uncertain and there is a lengthy period to complete it, persons will always try to find a way to speed it up or find a ‘link’ to help out with the process. We have created accountability and certainty in our processes, so people don’t need to find a ‘link’,” Dalling said.
He explained that in 2017, a web-based system was implemented to update applicants on the stage of their application.
“We use technology to keep our customers informed. Once the applicant applies, they are given a secure website access code to track the application from start to finish. The system shows everything as they move through the process. As soon as something changes in the application, an email is sent and they can check the update. That removes [unnecessary] human contact,” said Dalling.
NO LONGER HAVE TO WAIT
He said that since 2017, applicants no longer have to wait for five years before they are fingerprinted by the authority. Dalling described what now exists as rigorous fingerprinting.
“We started online electronic fingerprinting of all applicants in 2017. We have a hand-held device which we start using from the minute they apply for the licence. It produces results in seconds. Once a person is approved, we fingerprint them. When they come in to collect packages or licence cards, we fingerprint them,” he said.
“If an applicant commits a crime after he applied, was approved or picked up his licence, the system will alert us and we would engage in a process of revocation, which would safeguard the system to ensure that only fit and proper persons hold and continue to hold licences. We also use the electronic fingerprinting for all those renewing.”
Prior to 2018, those renewing firearm licences were not mandated to submit fingerprints until a specified five-year period had elapsed.
Dalling said: “Back then, if an applicant committed a crime in between the time the licence was granted or renewed, we would not know until a five-year period had passed because we would not fingerprint the applicant again, except for every five years. Early in 2018, we started using a hand-held machine to fingerprint applicants and those doing renewals. What that does is provides us with up-to-date information on any criminal record that any of our licence holders or applicants would have.”
Immediately upon renewal, the FLA would now know whether persons applying or renewing have committed any crimes.
“Rather than waiting for five years to know what the applicant has done, we would get real-time information. From the minute someone applies, we no longer have to wait months to know if this person has a record,” said the FLA boss.
“Since bringing in the hand-held device, we have found persons who have been convicted of murder and who deny it on the application form to say they have never been convicted of an offence in Jamaica or overseas. Now the machines flag you. Prior to this, persons could fill out the form and hope that the criminal records office would not pick up information on them.”
Crackdown on Delinquents
Quite a number of firearm users have been operating contrary to the firearms’ rules of engagement. Dalling spoke of incidents in which permit holders would threaten others via various platforms, including social media. This, he said, the authority has been responding to vividly and will continue to do so.
“We have had persons who threaten others on social media, about shooting them. We have got text messages from persons and carried out the investigations and have revoked several of those licences. We have also implemented digital display units in all our locations. When applicants are waiting to be processed, they are given safety and application information on a display board to ensure that persons are aware of the rules of engagement as it relates to firearms licences,” he said.
“One of the things we are implementing this year is a use-of-force policy and training for persons to understand the rules of engagement as it relates to the pulling of their firearms. Too often, persons pull their firearms in unnecessary situations. Persons have pulled firearms at the windscreen wiper at the stoplight. Some go into a club and you have an issue and an argument develops, the first thing you pull is your firearm. We need to let persons understand that as it relates to use of force, you only pull your firearm when it is necessary.”