Illinois State Police discuss FOID system problems, solutions since 2019

Illinois State Police have accepted and started to implement recommendations from the Auditor...
Illinois State Police have accepted and started to implement recommendations from the Auditor General to improve the FOID system.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 6:36 PM CST
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CHICAGO (WGEM) - Illinois State Police have accepted and started to implement recommendations from the auditor general to improve the FOID system. ISP Director Brendan Kelly answered questions Thursday from the Legislative Audit Commission and explained how the Firearms Services Bureau has adapted.

As recently as 2018 and 2019, the system required manual verification. State Police agreed this had to change, and a separate assessment in March 2020 found 72 opportunities to improve.

The Gray TV Illinois Capitol Bureau sat down with Auditor General Frank Mautino in September to talk about the issues his team found. Mautino suggested that the Firearms Services Bureau should minimize overlapping of work on applications to improve efficiency.

Kelly said Thursday that those recommendations were approved, developed, and implemented, leading to a significant drop in the FOID renewal application backlog. State Police reported on Dec. 6 that the bureau is processing FOID renewals in 38 calendar days.

That backlog rose to 138,722 renewal applications in November 2020. Kelly says it is now down to 7,800 applications.

“Treating the sophisticated background check process that we need for public safety like a fishing license, focusing more on bureaucracy than safety is something that simply is not tolerable,” Kelly said. “It’s been a real challenge for our ability to meet the statutory deadlines.”

FOID renewal applications must be processed within 60 business days, according to state statute.

Kelly explained portions of the application review process are now automated. He hopes to see more improvement on the application backlogs with implementation of the FOID modernization law. The legislation signed into law earlier this year will combine FOID and concealed carry licenses into one digital card.

The director told lawmakers that the COVID-19 pandemic “broke the camel’s back” in terms of how the FOID system worked. Kelly claimed the inefficiencies had been built into the system over time and State Police were told to speed up their response time in 2019.

Many firearm specialty analysts left their jobs because of burnout from constant overtime shifts and the growing demand for FOID cards. Kelly said ISP has hired more personnel thanks to additional funding in recent state budgets.

However, there are still issues to address.

Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) says the FOID application website doesn’t work properly. He calls the data and outdated technology atrocious.

“It’s one thing that you guys are seeming to be, within the last three to six months, clearing the decks on some of this with the applications that you receive,” Rose said. “But what about the applications that never make it because people can’t make it through the computer system in the first place?”

Kelly said his team made several changes in the back end of the FOID website to make it more user-friendly. Although, he said many people just struggle with using computers. He argued people should be able to put their personal information in and click the right buttons.

State police still accept FOID applications on paper, but it takes much longer to process those applications. Kelly said people can already fill out their applications on phones. The modernized FOID will allow people to receive email notifications about the application and update everything from their digital accounts.

“As that process is developed, I know that we’ve already seen models for this that will further streamline and simplify the user-friendliness of the website,” Kelly said.

The auditing team says ISP should also work closely with local law enforcement to make certain that revoked FOIDs and concealed carry licenses are returned to the department. The State Police legal office recently submitted updates to the FOID Act and administrative rules to allow sheriff’s department, local law enforcement, and courts to destroy revoked cards.

They also want to have local law enforcement make notes anytime a revoked FOID is destroyed rather than mailing the cards back to ISP offices. Still, Kelly notes State Police have no authority to force compliance with outside law enforcement agencies.

Rose, who sponsored the proposal calling for this audit, says he is glad to see improvement and the department taking responsibility. But, he says every Illinois agency must do better.

“When the citizens need us, whether it’s a FOID card or an unemployment claim, this government is failing at all corners. But you start by controlling what you can control,” Rose said. “And you’re attempting to do that.”

The auditor general’s office will conduct another audit of the FOID system next summer.

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