While widely acknowledged to be a serious problem, until now the scale at which California law enforcement agents have misplaced, lost, or had their weapons stolen from them has remained mostly unknown to the general public. A patchwork of different agencies and different reporting practices has meant there was no single place to find this information. Not any more. According to a new report from The Mercury News, law enforcement agencies across California lost a total of 944 guns between 2010 and 2016. Nine hundred and forty-four. The types of guns, and the various ways that these weapons left the control of police, suggests a danger to the public and a lack of accountability that has yet to be completely addressed.
High profile cases like that of Kathryn Steinle, the young woman shot and killed on a SF pier last July with a gun stolen from a federal agent's car, or that Oakland muralist Antonio Ramos, who was shot with a gun stolen from an US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Removal Operations officer's car while Ramos worked on an anti-violence mural, are perhaps only the most visible result of the loss of law enforcement weapons.
“You just can’t leave a gun alone in a vehicle,” retired FBI Agent Jim Wedick told the Mercury News. “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.”
However, as noted by ABC 7, it is not merely the theft of unattended weapons from police cars that has contributed to the high number — simple negligence has played a role as well. To back up that claim, the channel highlights incidents of gun loss where police "left their weapons behind on tailgates of vehicles, car roofs and even on a toilet paper dispenser in a car dealership's bathroom."
What type of guns are we talking about here? According to Mercury News, of the 944 missing guns, 600 are semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, 251 are shotguns, 27 are assault rifles, 16 are rifles, 15 are sniper rifles, 12 are grenade or tear gas launchers, 1 is a submachine gun, and another 22 are unknown.
On average, only 20 percent of the missing guns are recovered. San Francisco Police lost ten guns in the time period covered by the report. The CHP lost 40.