Cops in Southern California can't find 329 firearms – more may be missing

© Carlo Allegri
Law enforcement agencies in Southern California have lost or had stolen a total of 329 firearms – including AR-15 and M16s assault rifles, shotguns, and several handguns – over the past five years, according to a new report.

The 329 firearms that are unaccounted for among 134 state and local law enforcement agencies – located in Southern California as far north as Kern County – likely represent only a small portion of firearms the agencies have actually misplaced or had stolen over the span of the five years analyzed in an investigation conducted by the Orange County Register.

Law enforcement agencies in the US are not required by federal law to track missing firearms, nor are there any state laws that demand the agencies accurately account for guns in their possession, the Register reported.

Furthermore, both on- and off-duty law enforcement officers in California are not held to the same standard as other citizens regarding how firearms must be stored or carried when not in use. The Register also found that none of the agencies it contacted for information on missing guns included details in its internal reports of any officer reprimands that occurred following such mishaps.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department alone reported at least 103 firearms as missing since 2011, the Register found. The sheriff's department said it had not previously known how many guns were missing, nor had the department recently counted its 20,000-plus gun collection.

This is not an uncommon practice, the Register found.

"Obviously firearms are an important thing to safeguard," Ken Corney, Ventura police chief and president of the California Police Chiefs Association, told the newspaper. "It should be happening, whether or not there’s a state law."

The report detailed instances when law enforcement officers had guns stolen from their unlocked vehicles. At least 108 of the missing guns were reported stolen by Southern California officers.

"[Guns] become such a part of their existence, that they may lose significance. It’s kind of like your cellphone," said state Senator Jerry Hill, who is responsible for a bill that would eliminate gun-storage loopholes for police officers, requiring them to secure firearms in vehicles when not in use.

"It’s carelessness, and it’s a lack of respect for the power of that weapon," Hill added.

His legislation sprang from two high-profile killings in the San Francisco Bay area last year that involved guns stolen from cars belonging to federal law enforcement officers. The bill was passed by the state legislature in August and now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown.

In June, the San Jose Mercury News reported that 944 police guns in the entire state of California had gone missing since 2010.