Hundreds of California police guns go missing
September 26, 2016
At least 329 firearms were lost by or stolen from Southern California law enforcement agencies over the last five years. [Orange County Register]
Dozens of the missing firearms ended up in the hands of criminals, and some were used in crimes. One of the missing law enforcement weapons was used in the murder of Cal Poly grad Kate Steinle.
Steinle was gunned down last year on a San Francisco pier. An illegal immigrant, who is the murder suspect, allegedly stole a handgun from the unsecured car of a federal park ranger and used it to shoot Steinle.
The Orange County Register investigation covered 134 state and local police agencies from Kern County to the Mexican border. It is unclear if SLO County agencies were included.
Southern California law enforcement agencies said their officers reported at least 108 firearms as stolen. Of the stolen guns, at least 22 were retrieved.
Authorities in Mexico have recovered some guns that were stolen from law enforcement in California, and U.S. police agencies have found other weapons in the hands of fleeing felons.
Many law enforcement agencies do not audit their weaponry. If they performed audits, they would likely find they were missing more weapons.
After receiving a request from the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department assembled a team of nearly two dozen employees to track thousands of files on gun locations and assignments. The team discovered at least 103 sheriff’s department guns had been lost or stolen over the past five years. The missing firearms ranged from handguns to shotguns.
In recent years, the Oakland and San Jose police departments counted their weapons and found that more than 300 service firearms had disappeared over a six-year period.
Unlike other citizens in California, on and off-duty officers do not need to store their firearms in a locked location. Reports show officers had stowed high-caliber firearms in backpacks or gym bags. Officers had also stuffed handguns behind car seats, in center consoles and in glove boxes. Burglars have snatched some of the poorly stored guns.
It is unclear how, if at all, law enforcement agencies discipline officers who lose their weapons. Police agencies treat such type of discipline as a confidential personnel matter.
No state or federal laws require law enforcement agencies to account for their firearms. Additionally, officers are not legally required to inform anyone when their weapons are lost or stolen. In California, law enforcement agencies voluntarily report missing weapons to a database managed by the state Department of Justice.
Proposition 63, which is on the November ballot, would make it mandatory for gun owners to report stolen weapons to law enforcement and for police to report their stolen weapons to their departments.