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Officers across the Bay Area and state are losing firearms at an astonishing rate

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    Officers across the Bay Area and state are losing firearms at an astonishing rate

    By Thomas Peele

    [email protected]

    Published June 26, 2016


    ine-hundred and forty-four guns.
    From Glocks, Sig Sauers and Remingtons to sniper and assault rifles,

    Related stories
    June 28: San Francisco deputy's missing gun found during murder investigation

    They used to belong to law enforcement officers across California, but a new Bay Area News Group investigation found hundreds of police-issued weapons have been either stolen, lost or can’t be accounted for since 2010, often disappearing onto the streets without a trace.

    Courtesy of Nicole Ludwig
    A federal ranger's stolen gun was used in the high-profile killing of Kate Steinle as she walked with her father on a San Francisco pier. Despite the attention, a year later guns are still being stolen from law enforcement officers' vehicles.
    Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is charged in Steinle's killing. He says he found the gun that was stolen from a Bureau of Land Management agent's vehicle.

    A year after a bullet from a federal agent’s stolen gun killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, this news organization surveyed more than 240 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and discovered an alarming disregard for the way many officers — from police chiefs to cadets to FBI agents — safeguard their weapons.
    Their guns have been stolen from behind car seats and glove boxes, swiped from gym bags, dresser drawers and under beds. They have been left on tailgates, car roofs and even atop a toilet paper dispenser in a car dealership’s bathroom. One officer forgot a high-powered assault rifle in the trunk of a taxi.
    The tally includes Colts, Rugers, Smith & Wessons, a Derringer, a .44-caliber Dirty Harry hand cannon and a small snub-nosed revolver called a “Detective Special.”
    In all, since 2010, at least 944 guns have disappeared from police in the Bay Area and state and federal agents across California — an average of one almost every other day — and fewer than 20 percent have been recovered.
    Little attention had been paid to the issue before Steinle’s highly publicized death. But at least 86 weapons were snatched from officers’ vehicles between January 2010 and last June’s smash-and-grab burglary of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger’s gun recovered after Steinle’s shooting. Police have not determined who stole it, but an illegal immigrant is charged in her killing.
    “You just can’t leave a gun alone in a vehicle,” said retired FBI Agent Jim Wedick. “You just can’t do it. It has to be in a compartment, or in chains an inch thick wrapped around a lead box, because, God forbid, someone gets hurt.”
    Even after Steinle’s death, law enforcement agents have continued to leave guns available in their cars: Four FBI guns have been stolen from vehicles in the Bay Area this year, including three in Benicia; Salinas police had three stolen from cars in a six-week period in April and May. And a San Jose Police cadet resigned on the eve of becoming an officer after his gun was stolen from his car in late October while he was in the Benihana restaurant at Cupertino’s Vallco Shopping Mall.

    A breakdown of the missing 944 guns
    semi-automatic pistols and revolvers


    assault rifles


    sniper rifles

    grenade/tear gas launchers

    submachine gun

    Not disclosed or unknown

    Scope is ‘staggering’

    The thefts are revealed in records obtained from government agencies in one of the most comprehensive examinations of missing police guns of its kind. While last year’s highly publicized killings of Steinle and Oakland muralist Antonio Ramos brought attention to the tragic consequences of stolen police guns, the scope of the problem has been far less clear — until now.
    The numbers “are staggering,” said Frank Pitre, an attorney representing Steinle’s parents, Jim Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan, in a federal lawsuit over their daughter’s death. The BLM is one of three defendants.
    This news organization’s investigation also uncovered that a gun stolen from a Tracy cop in 2010 was used to kill a man in Contra Costa County four years later, and a now-retired Piedmont police chief’s stolen gun in 2012 was used in a San Francisco gang shooting that year.
    Many departments have struggled to keep track of weapons. Oakland police, for example, lost track of 370 weapons since 2011, including 30 this year that later turned up. It’s unclear how many other guns could be missing from local departments that haven’t bothered to audit their inventory of weapons.
    While police agencies documented the majority of missing guns in this news organization’s analysis as lost or unaccounted for, 192 were listed as stolen.
    “They don't take it as seriously as they should, and what the effects of it could be if it gets lost to the wrong hands”
    State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who is sponsoring a bill requiring officers to secure weapons left in vehicles.

    “This needs to stop,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who is sponsoring legislation that would make it illegal in California for a cop to leave a gun in an unattended car unless it is locked inside a hidden compartment or secure case.
    Officers become complacent with their weapon, because they are so used to it always being there, Hill said. “They don’t take it as seriously as they should, and what the effects of it could be if it gets lost to the wrong hands.”
    Late last year, after Steinle and Ramos were killed, U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, urged President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring all federal guns left in parked vehicles to be locked down. The White House took no action, DeSaulnier said in an interview.
    Regulations for gun storage in vehicles vary widely across the more than nearly 100 federal agencies that employ armed agents, DeSaulnier said. He said he will soon introduce legislation to make regulations uniform by requiring lockable compartments in any parked vehicle where a government gun is left.
    He is also considering adding a requirement that any police department in the country that receives federal funding have strict policies in place about safeguarding guns in unattended vehicles.
    “It was very staggering for me to find out that there is no set, universal policy at all for state, local and federal government,” DeSaulnier said. “That’s crazy.”

    Search the gun database

    All of the missing police guns and many of their serial numbers are featured in this searchable database at

    Most thefts from vehicles

    The records that show from where a theft occurred highlight a distinct pattern: 60 percent were swiped from vehicles, almost always from a personal car or truck where a gun was left vulnerable, this news organization found.
    Rather than securing their guns, officers sought to hide them under or behind car seats, placed them in glove boxes and center consoles, or stowed them in exposed equipment bags and backpacks before dropping into coffee shops, health clubs, grocery stores, bars, a Bass Pro Shop, a Nordstrom or their homes.
    “It’s a movie that keeps getting repeated,” said Pitre, who also represents Ramos’ parents in a claim against the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement department in their son’s death.
    David Debolt/bay area NEWS GROUP
    Months after Steinle's killing, artist Antonio Ramos was killed in Oakland with a gun stolen from an ICE agent’s parked car. He was shot while working on an anti-violence mural.

    Ramos, the Oakland street artist, was painting an anti-violence mural on West Street under an Interstate 580 overpass when he was shot, purportedly by Marquise Holloway, 22, with a gun stolen from an ICE agent’s parked car in San Francisco. It had been left in a bag, Pitre said.
    But Steinle and Ramos weren’t the only ones killed with stolen police weapons in the region since 2010, this news organization found. In March 2014, a gun stolen from the vehicle of a Tracy police officer was used in the death of Jesus Orozco, 34, a laborer and father of two, in a dispute over a woman that a prosecutor called “a little love triangle.”
    Three men were arrested, but not charged. Orozco had been carrying an air gun that looked like an assault weapon, and the men raised self-defense claims, said Contra Costa deputy district attorney Mary Knox.
    A cousin of Orozco said his family never knew a police gun was involved. The gunman wasn’t charged with possessing the officer’s stolen weapon because “we have to prove that he knew the gun was stolen,” Knox said.
    New Tracy police Chief Larry Esquivel, the former San Jose chief, said “the circumstances were truly unfortunate for everybody involved. I can’t stress enough the importance of proper storage (and) care of any weapon.”
    Running the gamut

    Across the state, the officers whose guns were lost or stolen run the law enforcement gamut, from ICE and DEA agents to forest rangers, alcoholic beverage control officers, sheriff’s deputies, game wardens, welfare fraud investigators and parks police. A CHP officer’s gun was even stolen from his wife after she took it without his knowledge.
    Losing a gun — especially when it was left vulnerable — is one of “the worst things to have happen to a police officer,” said CHP Captain Josh Ehlers.
    Forty government-issued and personal guns were stolen from CHP officers during the period this news organization analyzed. Three more were reported missing.
    CHP Officer Antonio Garrett left six guns — two shotguns, two pistols and two assault rifles — inside his personal Chevrolet Tahoe while he stopped at a Claim Jumper restaurant in Southern California in 2013. He didn’t notice the cache of weapons was gone until he got home and found a lock on the SUV was broken. The guns have not been found, Ehlers said. Garrett had been returning from a CHP gun range.
    Stolen police guns have ended up in the hands of members and associates of notorious gangs like the Bloods, The Aryan Brotherhood and Norteños. One fell into the hands of a Reno pimp after a prostitute took a Kensington police officer’s Glock pistol and badge from his hotel room when he fell asleep. That gun was recovered when the pimp accidentally shot himself in the leg during an altercation.
    That’s not the only bizarre discovery of an officer’s stolen gun: In 2014, a Washington woman driving through a Seattle suburb was pounding on the rattling glove compartment of a used car she just bought when it popped open and out fell a .40-caliber Sig Sauer pistol that had been hidden in the air-bag compartment. Three years earlier, a thief had swiped it from a Stockton police officer’s car.
    Karl mondon/bay area news group
    The office of Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern in Oakland.

    Weapon thefts

    Karl mondon/Bay area news group
    Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern now prohibits his officers from leaving weapons in their vehicles overnight.

    San Francisco police and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which includes Dublin police, topped local agencies with 10 stolen weapons each. All of the sheriff’s gun thefts were swiped from vehicles, including one where a deputy’s personal car flipped over in an accident and a passer-by snatched a bag from the wreckage as the injured officer waited for help.
    Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern said the thefts led him to issue an order earlier this year mimicking one by former San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr that prohibits officers from leaving weapons in vehicles overnight.
    Former Piedmont police Chief John Hunt could have used the same policy.
    He drove home to Danville after work on March 9, 2012, and as was his custom, left his briefcase in his car — with his Sig Sauer pistol inside. Hunt, who now lives in Idaho, said his wife didn’t want the gun in the house as a precaution because they have children.
    The next morning, poof, the briefcase was gone.
    Hunt said he instantly “felt sick. We lived in a safe community. The (driveway) gate was locked. It was so embarrassing.”
    Four months later, two San Francisco police officers were driving along Mission Street shortly after midnight when they heard four or five gunshots, saw people scattering, then ran down a gang member who had tossed a weapon under a car.
    When police ran that gun’s serial number through a statewide database that traces weapons, up popped the Piedmont Police Department.
    It was Hunt’s gun.
    Piedmont police were notified of the recovery, but Hunt, who had retired weeks earlier, said he was never told the gun was found until a reporter called.
    In a phone interview he said he was surprised this news organization had traced the gun to the San Francisco shooting.
    “At least it’s off the streets,” Hunt said. “I am so relieved. At least no one was hurt.”

    Discipline appears rare

    “It’s a movie that keeps getting repeated”
    Frank Pitre, an attorney representing the families of shooting victims Kate Steinle and Antonio Ramos

    Strong discipline would help curb thefts, experts say, but it isn’t clear whether such discipline happens; California’s secretive police personnel laws often make it difficult to find out what happened to cops who left guns unsecured.
    A few cases show punishment is far from severe.
    When an unidentified Napa police officer left an assault weapon in the trunk of a taxi — the driver later turned it in — the discipline was a written reprimand, Chief Steven Potter said. When another cop had a weapon stolen from his home, he received a lecture and was told to buy a gun safe.
    A cop leaving a gun unsecured in a vehicle can be “gross negligence,” Stephanie Wheaton, a senior DMV investigator, wrote in a January memo after investigating an underling whose gun was stolen in Los Angeles County last year.
    Wheaton found the investigator “changed his story,” first claiming he left a bag containing the gun in the car, then saying he took the gun in his house.
    She wrote that, at a minimum, the investigator’s punishment should be to pay the state the cost of the weapon — more than $700. A DMV spokesman would not say if or how the investigator was disciplined.
    Alameda Sheriff Ahern said that none of the guns stolen from his deputies’ personal vehicles resulted in the kind of internal affairs investigations that can lead to serious discipline. Rather, he said, the department took administrative measures, such as “an informal counseling session” and what he called a “formal record of conversation.”

    Sorry man,,,But crap doesn't just happen...


      I love that they make a distinction between "assault rifles" and just plain normal rifles. Showing a bolt action. What the fuck were the 'standard' rifles stolen? Then they show "sniper" rifles as the SAME EXACT weapon with a bipod and scope. I fucking hate the media.
      “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." - Benjamin Franklin


        The answer is simple.
        BAN LEO's from having guns!!!
        "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." Martin Luther King, Jr.