U.S. Park Police Lost Track of Thousands of Guns

The National Mall, Washington DC
The National Mall, Washington DC

According to a recent report from the Department of the Interior Inspector General, the United States Park Police (USPP), the law enforcement agency responsible for safeguarding the National Mall in Washington and other major American landmarks, had “no proper accounting for hundreds of weapons.”

The report, issued last month, details that the Park Service not only lost guns, but has no real idea of how many it is actually responsible for and says the department has no clear policies or procedures for investigating missing weapons.

“We discovered hundreds of handguns, rifles, and shotguns not accounted for on the official USPP inventory,” the agency said in a release. “As recently as April 2013, two automatic rifles were discovered during a firearms search for which USPP had no prior knowledge.”

U.S. Park Police officers under the blooming cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.According to the inspector general’s office, the agency received an anonymous complaint that the Park Police could not account for government-issued military-style rifles and that some weapons may have been taken by officers for their personal use.

The agency conducted several unannounced reviews of weapons storage facilities in Washington, D.C., California, New York and Georgia, turning up hundreds of weapons not listed on official inventory records — many with serial numbers not officially registered in the Park Police system — and other weapons in areas other than they were supposed to be kept.

“We initially set out to determine if USPP could account for all military-style weapons in its inventory, whether USPP had intentionally concealed missing weapons, and whether officers used USPP weapons for their personal use. Our effort to definitively address the allegations were hindered by a failure of the USPP property and firearms custodians to provide a baseline inventory and accounting of firearms.  We found credible evidence of conditions that would allow for theft and misuse of firearms, and the ability to conceal the fact if weapons were missing,” Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, in a letter that accompanies the report.

“Basic tenets of property management and supervisory oversight are missing in their simplest forms,” Kendall wrote. “Commanders, up to and including the Chief of Police, have a lackadaisical attitude toward firearms management. Historical evidence indicates that this indifference is a product of years of inattention to administrative detail and management principles.”

U.S. Park PoliceWhile surveying Park Police field office armories, investigators found more than 1,400 extra and unassigned weapons that were intended to be destroyed.

They also found 198 handguns that were transferred from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and stored in an operations facility firearms room without being recorded in an inventory system.

“The custodian took no steps to record the handguns transferred from ATF on any inventory system,” the report states. “The only documentation pertaining to these firearms that the custodian could provide was the transfer paperwork from ATF.  During our documentation review, we discovered that a handgun serial number had been incorrectly listed on that paperwork.”

There are also instances of officers storing service weapons at their homes, according to the report.  The review found that one officer on duty for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January held onto a semiautomatic rifle without authorization and kept it at his home. In San Francisco, the agency found a Park Police officer similarly kept a shotgun in his home without permission.

U.S. Park Police officers at the Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square on February 5, 2012.While the review found no indication that any weapons fell into criminal hands, the agency “found credible evidence of conditions that would allow for theft and misuse of firearms, and the ability to conceal the fact if weapons were missing.”

“We found that staff at all levels — from firearms program managers to their employees — had no clear idea of how many weapons they maintained due to incomplete and poorly managed inventory controls,” the report stated.

The inspector general’s office gave 10 recommendations to improve firearms management and accountability, including to immediately conduct a complete weapons inventory, stop using “informal property accountability records” like spreadsheets, and reduce the weapons inventory to no more than the minimum amount necessary.

A spokesman for the National Park Service told The Washington Post, which first reported the review, they had been ordered to implement the recommendations “without delay.”

Read the full inspector general’s full report here.

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