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Scores of Police Weapons Are Missing in Long Beach

January 13, 2006|Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writer

The Long Beach Police Department is missing more than a fourth of its shotguns and an unknown number of revolvers, officials said Thursday.

The second-largest police department in Los Angeles County was scrambling to determine whether the guns were lost, stolen or somehow misplaced within the agency. Investigators have uncovered no evidence so far that the firearms found their way into the wrong hands or were used in crimes.

The missing weapons came to light after patrol officers complained several months ago to Police Chief Anthony Batts at a staff meeting that they were having trouble finding department-issued shotguns. That led to patrol Lt. Elizabeth Griffin's examination of the matter last month, concluding in an audit, reviewed by The Times, that 85 of the 272 department's shotguns could not be located.

Department spokeswoman Karen Owens said that since the report was issued, 15 shotguns have been found. But the department also discovered it is missing .38-caliber service revolvers that officers have turned in over the years to the agency's shooting range as they opted for more powerful handguns. The department has launched a separate review of what happened to those.

"We have absolutely no idea where the guns are," said one Long Beach officer familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It doesn't seem we'd know if they were used in a crime, and criminals sometimes like shotguns, because you can't match the bullets to the gun."

The audit that uncovered the missing shotguns also found that the department last inventoried its weapons in 1998.

By contrast, the much larger Los Angeles Police Department checks its shotguns and other equipment at all 19 stations and the Police Academy every shift of every day, said spokesman Lt. Paul Vernon. The LAPD also inventories property, including its weapons, at each station twice a year.

"Over my 18 years on the job, there have been guns seized" from crime suspects "that were found to be stolen from other law enforcement agencies," Vernon said. "We keep close records on that. When we know [a weapon] is stolen, we document it."

In the Long Beach department, a shotgun is supposed to be placed in each patrol car, but some officers said they could not find the weapons.

After the audit revealed that so many were missing, Chief Batts instructed every employee -- including the roughly 900 sworn police officers -- to search for any misplaced shotguns, Owens said. The chief also asked them to pass along any information about weapons being stripped of their parts. It was during that process that the 15 shotguns were discovered.

Owens said the department considers finding the remaining 70 shotguns a top priority. She said some of them may have been improperly checked out by officers and not returned.

The department has not purchased new shotguns in 20 years, so it's also possible that officers used parts of some weapons to repair others.

"It is an important issue for us," she said.

As for the missing revolvers, Owens said the department does not keep a formal inventory of those weapons, so it will take time to determine where they are.

Some in the department are raising questions about why officials don't regularly inventory the firearms.

Owens said the department has long wanted to purchase a computer system that would electronically track weapons but until recently didn't have the money. The system was recently purchased and will be installed this summer.

The LAPD, however, uses paper and pencil to inventory its weapons and double-check the list each shift, Vernon said. If the inventory finds a missing item -- weapons as well as other LAPD property -- the officer must immediately file a report explaining how it was lost.

Said LAPD Officer Martha Garcia: "When I was in traffic, I lost a measuring device, and I got called in to file a report. They're inventoried."

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