HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County is expanding a program it hopes will protect domestic violence victims, while also shortening the time it takes to submit crucial information for gun background checks.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Court unanimously approved an expansion of the existing “Safe Surrender” program from one felony court to all 22 felony courts.

The pilot program, which started in December 2018, requires people charged with domestic violence to surrender their guns to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office until their case is resolved.

“This is an incredible, groundbreaking moment that will make Harris County safer,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia of Precinct Two.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez supported the move.

“These laws have been in place now for 25 years,” said Sheriff Gonzalez. “However, we never really had the infrastructure to be able to do it.”

Sheriff Gonzalez told commissioners 40 percent of HCSO’s homicide cases are linked to domestic violence. With domestic violence homicides, 45 percent occur within 90 days of separation.

District Clerk Marilyn Burgess also announced Tuesday that starting October 25, her office cut in half the time it takes to report disqualifying convictions for gun ownership to the Texas Department of Public Safety, from 10 business days down to five.

Burgess said her office is a year ahead of schedule of that same requirement taking effect statewide.

“The most dangerous time is when a conviction is first heard,” said Burgess. “The days after that immediately is when someone wants to retaliate and go out and purchase a gun.”

Dr. Umair Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health, announced during Tuesday’s meeting his agency has started a task force on violence and injury prevention, which includes gun violence.

Precinct One Constable Alan Rosen’s office is also giving out free gun locks, including outside of the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday. Anyone interested in getting one can click here.

Judge Hidalgo’s staff tells KHOU Harris County officials will present Commissioners Court with an implementation plan and funding recommendations for the Safe Surrender program by the November 12 meeting.

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