Where are the guns? Probe finds hundreds of Bay Area police weapons missing

© David McNew
More than 500 weapons have been “lost or stolen” from six local police departments, the California Highway Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2010, a probe has found.

A gun used by an undocumented immigrant in the July murder of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle was traced to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It had been stolen earlier this year from a ranger’s vehicle. KNTV, a Bay Area NBC affiliate, looked into how many weapons the BLM has misplaced. The results were only the tip of the iceberg.

Following Steinle’s death, KNTV filed California Public Records Act requests with federal, state and local agencies, seeking records pertaining to lost or stolen firearms from law enforcement agencies. Some agencies, such as the BLM, have not yet responded to the CPRA requests. Records from local police departments revealed that at least 379 weapons have gone missing because of loss or theft.

The missing weapons are known to “include military grade assault rifles such as AR-15s and M16s, sniper rifles, shotguns, a gas grenade launcher and hundreds of handguns.” Furthermore, “the vast majority” of those weapons have never been recovered.

In the San Jose Police Department alone, a 2010 audit discovered that a whopping 324 firearms were missing.

“Back in 2010, we proactively did an audit of the range and we discovered that we have about 300 guns that are unaccounted for,” San Jose deputy chief Phan Ngo told KNTV. “Totally unacceptable.”

While the majority of the missing weapons from San Jose police were the officers’ handguns, the audit showed the department missing ten 40mm grenade launchers, two M-16 rifles, six sniper rifles and 49 shotguns. Only 16 of the lost firearms have been located since the audit, which also found that 2,448 of the SJPD weapons were never even registered with the Department of Justice.

"We need to know that when law enforcement officers are given the privilege to carry around weapons, that they are going to be held to the requirements that are imposed in making sure they’re secured and not easily available for criminals to use in crimes," said Frank Pitre, the attorney representing the Steinle family, to KNTV. Pitre has filed a claim against the BLM, saying that the gun used to kill Steinle should have been secured.

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The California Highway Patrol had 35 guns lost or stolen since 2010, all but three of which were reported stolen. Those guns include “Colt rifles, Remington shotguns and the officers’ department-issued side arms, Smith & Wesson .40-caliber tactical semi-automatic handguns,” according to KNTV.

Gun thefts are not a phenomenon affecting just law enforcement. KNTV also obtained FBI records indicating that just over 1 million civilian firearms have been reported stolen nationwide since 2010.

"Very often, stolen firearms fuel other crimes," Graham Barlowe, the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Sacramento field office, told KNTV. "They’re specifically targeted for other crimes. So when some people see a statistic of a burglary, I see a future robbery. I see a future homicide. And so I’m very focused on identifying who’s responsible for that and putting it to an end.”