In California, where guns are getting closer to being outlawed every time the legislature sits, a police gun that had gone missing turned up, exactly the way cops don’t want it to: in a homicide. And that got the Orange County Register curious: how many other guns are missing from SoCal cop shops? The answer: at least 329.
Southern California police agencies regularly lose track of all manner of firearms, from high-powered rifles and grenade launchers to standard service handguns – weapons that often wind up on the street.An Orange County Register investigation of 134 state and local police agencies from Kern County to the Mexican border found that over the past five years at least 329 firearms were lost by or stolen from law enforcement agencies.Dozens of these weapons wound up in the hands of criminals – and some were involved in crimes. In Northern California, a missing police gun was used in a suspected murder.But the number of guns known to be missing or stolen is almost certainly a fraction of the actual number that have made the jump from police agency to street. Not every department audits its weaponry. If agencies performed such audits, they’d find they were missing more guns
Despite losing a lot of guns, the cop managers say it’s not big deal, because they have a lot of guns; they should get some slack for losing a few.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, following a request by the Register, assembled a team of nearly two dozen employees to track through thousands of files on gun location and gun assignments. The research found that at least 103 L.A. County Sheriff’s Department guns, ranging from service handguns to shotguns, were lost or stolen over the past five years.
Hey, that’s only 20-point-something a year!
A spokesperson said the agency didn’t previously know how many guns were missing, and hadn’t recently conducted a centralized count of its service handguns. The missing weapons are a tiny portion of the department’s 20,000-gun arsenal.
Is it just us, or does that spokesman’s “it’s only 103 out of 20,000” sound kind of like, “Dad, it’d be a good grade if Mrs Throttlebottom graded on a curve,” or what?
But say, while LASD might look like they’re all butterfingers with their guns compared to say, you or us (hey, we had one out of place for two days, and it nearly induced a-fib), they look like the Ayatollah of Inventory Controll-ah compared to the slipshod cop shops in Northern California, a couple of whom lose guns at a rate of fifty-plus a year.
In recent years, police departments in Oakland and San Jose counted their weapons, and each found more than 300 service firearms had vanished over a six-year period, according to a report from Southern California News Group’s sister publications in the San Francisco Bay area.
(The link is to a feature at the San Jose Mercury News). And these departments are the ones that raised their hands and accepted the foul in good grace. Some of them didn’t answer the door when the
cops media knocked.
At least 24 agencies contacted over the past three months didn’t respond to requests for data on missing or stolen weapons. And the Long Beach Police Department, one of the bigger agencies in Southern California, said it doesn’t track weapons because its officers provide their own guns.
Gotta love Long Beach: “Not our circus, not our monkeys.” Yeah, that’s how ATF Phoenix Group VII felt until the guns they walked started killing Feds and not just “mere” Mexicans. Although, the comparison isn’t really fair to the policemen: unlike the ATF, they weren’t trying to lose the guns.
There are about 300 million guns in America, and nobody knows how many are owned or controlled by police agencies.
That number is almost certainly low — extremely low. Almost 300 million guns have been made or imported in the last 25 years! But that’s another story.
What is known is that it’s not rare for police and their weapons to go separate ways and that, in general, lost or stolen police guns account for some of the weapons used to commit crimes.
“A significant source of guns in illegal hands, on the black market, come from stolen firearms,” said Ari Freilich, staff attorney with San Francisco’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“We should be concerned that police – and all individuals that keep deadly weapons – know where their guns are.”
Normally, Halley’s Comet comes around more frequently than a non-risible statement from a functionary of some gun-ban group like the Law Center, but Freilich’s last sentence is completely unobjectionable. He’s right. Of course, the news people seem to think the whole problem is caused by exempting cops from California’s violent-criminal-friendly gun storage laws:
[O]n- and off-duty police officers are allowed to store and carry weapons in ways that would be unlawful for other citizens in California. The theory behind that law is to make sure an officer doesn’t have to unlock a stored gun to use it in an emergency, but in practice it often leads to police guns being stolen.
An officer shouldn’t “have to unlock a stored gun to use it in an emergency,” but neither should any peaceable citizen. But the report, otherwise so good, seems not to have brought forward the key point. The problem of stolen guns leaching into the criminal black market really doesn’t stem from theft of guns held ready for self-defense, it primarily comes from guns stored in homes and cars and then stolen in residential and auto burglaries. Indeed, safe storage laws only go so far; as the old saying goes, “locks keep honest people out,” and a burglary in which burglars make off with a small safe or smash open a large one are distressingly common.
But you’re not helping by leaving them in an unlocked car, a common cop practice.
At least 22 of the stolen guns were retrieved. Authorities in Mexico recovered some guns stolen from U.S. law enforcement, while U.S. police found other weapons in the hands of fleeing felons.
Often, the reports show, officers treated their guns in ways that wouldn’t be legal for most civilians. High-caliber firepower was stowed in backpacks or gym bags and stuffed behind car seats. Handguns were stashed in center consoles or glove boxes. Burglars looking for weapons that on the street can be sold for several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars found them.
Makes our point about the sort of storage the criminals are exploiting, doesn’t it? A number of the thefts they go on to list (do Read The Whole Thing™) were from unlocked vehicles. Lots of shotguns and ARs were lost, including at least two full-auto M16s. Riverside PD lost a 40mm grenade launcher. And then there were these two bozos:
Two deputies, one in San Diego County and one in Orange County, separately left assault rifles worth $1,500 apiece on the trunks of their patrol cars and drove away. The Orange County deputy had put the rifle down to take a call on his cellphone, according to authorities. By the time the deputies realized what they had done, the weapons were gone. The California Highway Patrol found the San Diego rifle. The Orange County rifle remains on the streets.
There was another AR that was left in a locked patrol car — with the windows down. That one was recovered from the home of the drunk that winkled it out of the car. (We suspect that surveillance video came in with that save).
It’s unclear if agencies would welcome regulations requiring regular gun counts, but some police leaders believe the profession could do a better job of keeping track of weapons.
It’s staggering to think any agency wouldn’t do audits. Ask an FFL what happens if he tells his Industry Operations Inspector he’s missing a few firearms, and, incidentally, he last conducted an audit since Christ was a corporal. Or never. (Outcome: the next ATF official he’s talking to will probably be a special agent, not an IOI, and he’s not going to like the way the conversation goes).
Chuck Michel, an attorney who specializes in gun laws, said if police agencies were gun stores, many would go “out of business for the way they keep inventory.”
Amen. Sloppy inventory? Look at what happened to manufacturers CAV Arms and Stag. Again, do Read The Whole Thing™, and the feature on 944 missing NorCal cop guns in the Murky News, and check out the OC Register’s Database of Missing SoCal Cop Guns.