The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office may be one of the first law enforcement agencies statewide to provide its deputies with gun vaults in their personal cars to store their department-issued firearms.
The vaults will "significantly reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of criminals," Sheriff Laurie Smith said during a news conference this morning at the county's Fleet Management facility in North San Jose.
Installations are underway to place 750 portable gun vaults in deputies' personal cars to help comply with Senate Bill 869, which was signed into law last week.
The bill builds on existing law that requires anyone who leaves a handgun unguarded in a car to either lock the weapon in the trunk or place it in a locked container that's not easily visible.
The law goes into effect in January and violators can face a $1,000 fine, said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who authored the bill.
Hill said he hasn't heard of another agency besides the Sheriff's Office that has provided deputies with gun vaults while off duty.
The new law comes about a year since two fatal shootings in Oakland and San Francisco involving guns taken from federal agents.
Muralist Antonio Ramos, 27, was shot and killed while painting under an Interstate Highway 580 overpass in Oakland on Sept. 27, 2015.
The gun recovered in connection with Ramos' death was taken from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent during a car burglary in San Francisco earlier that month.
Kate Steinle, 32, was fatally shot at Pier 14 in San Francisco on July 1, 2015. The investigation showed the weapon was stolen from an off-duty Bureau of Land Management agent's car.
The high profile cases "brought to light for all of us just the devastating consequences of when someone is irresponsibly leaving their handgun in a vehicle," Hill said.
The senator called the vaults "750 strong steps to ensure safe gun storage."
The last time a firearm was stolen from a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy's vehicle was within the past three years, according to sheriff's officials.
"We realize that there are many circumstances where peace officers may not take their firearms into certain locations," Smith said.
Deputies are encouraged to keep their firearm with them at all times, but situations such as sporting and school events force them to temporarily keep the weapon in their car, Smith said.
Previously the sheriff's protocol was for deputies to lock their firearm in a car trunk, but a new policy has been written surrounding the new requirement to store the weapons in the lock boxes, according to Smith.
The key lock vaults for deputies' personal cars were purchased through funds raised by the sheriff's Advisory Board, a nonprofit organization, Smith said.
The lock boxes from Snapsafe Modular Vaults are valued at about $30 each, according to sheriff's officials.
Vaults have also been placed in most of the sheriff's unmarked patrol cars, which come with a key and combination lock, according to Smith.