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Updated: Tuesday, 05 Feb 2013, 8:20 AM EST
Published : Monday, 04 Feb 2013, 11:12 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - M-16’s, M-14’s, shotguns and handguns once used on battlefields around the world were donated to local police departments to help protect Indiana streets. But, I-Team 8 discovered dozens of them have vanished without a trace.
One of the guns was reported missing in Indiana within the last two weeks.
The guns were once used by American troops, but after they were no longer needed, they were designated as “military surplus,” and were donated at little or no cost to police departments across the nation by the U.S. Department of Defense. The transfer of the weapons is handled through the Michigan based U.S. Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) under a program known as 1033.
In 2011, the last full year of the program, 4,488 weapons were given to local law enforcement and police agencies across the nation. 64 of those weapons were sent to Indiana.
Now, as the search for the guns intensifies, I-Team 8 has learned at least 11 Indiana departments--including some in central Indiana--have been suspended from the federal surplus program.
I-Team 8 also discovered that over the last three years no state has reported more guns from the program missing or stolen than Indiana.
INTO THIN AIR
The gun from the LESO 1033 program that was reported missing in late January brings Indiana's statewide total of missing guns to 30. Some of those guns disappeared long ago. But, I-Team 8’s analysis of data provided by the Defense Department showed 21 of the 30 guns were reported missing over the last two years.
During that time, Indiana has also far outpaced other states in the number of reported missing guns from the program.
According to figures provided to I-Team 8 by the DLA, nearly half of the 66 guns reported missing or stolen since 2010 have been from Indiana. Surrounding states Ohio (11) Michigan (2) and Illinois (1) also have much lower numbers.
“I can't imagine who it wouldn't be disturbing to,” Zionsville Chief Robert Knox said, when presented with the figures. “We certainly don't want any unaccounted weapons out there. We had an audit [in 2011] and everything is accounted for [in Zionsville] and serial numbers are exactly as they should be. If they're not issued out to a police officer at this point in time, they're under lock and key in a locked armory.”
“It is a little bit alarming,” Indianapolis Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Valerie Washington agreed. “No one wants to know that weapons are possibly missing and in the wrong hands.”
In 2011, IMPD received new sight, reflex and face shields, valued at $17,737, according to figures provided to I-Team 8 by the Department of Defense. Weapons have been shipped to Indianapolis under the LESO 1033 program for years as well.
But, they’re not being shipped anymore.
IMPD is one of 11 departments now listed as “suspended” from the LESO 1033 program. Their access to the entire DLA surplus inventory is now gone.
“They are currently suspended for either an accountability or reporting issue regarding weapons,” DLA Media Relations Chief Michelle McCaskill told I-Team 8.
The suspended departments include:
“To be removed from suspension, the agency must correct the violation and meet the criteria outlined in the [Memorandum of Agreement],” McCaskill said. “Any violation of this agreement will be met with administrative action.”
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?
Asked how Indianapolis police lost track of its weapon, Washington at first said she didn’t believe the department had.
“Not that I'm aware of, no,” she said, when asked if IMPD had any weapons missing.
When informed that the department was included on the DLA’s suspension list, she said the city needed to find out more.
“It's a process question,” she said. “A lot of times when officers and staff are receiving the goods from the federal government or other agencies who are making donations, they just don't understand the process of properly documenting that asset and getting it on the books. I think in our case, it's a process where we need to work directly with the auditor's office and the controller's office and the officers who are taking the equipment and make sure we're documenting and getting it capitalized the right way.”
Asked if that meant she believed weapons might have been misplaced, not stolen or lost, Washington nodded.
“I would believe that to be a case,” she said. “It's been purely a tracking issue and properly recording the asset into our asset system.”
It's not the first time IMPD has had problems with property.
Last year, critical blood evidence in the case against Officer David Bisard was mistakenly removed from a refrigeration unit. Lawsuits against the city are pending over the handling of evidence in other cases as well.
“If we do find we have missing weapons we need to do our due diligence to get them back into our possession, properly tracked, and into the system,” Washington said. “It is an eye opener for us, because we realize when we do get the assets from the feds, we do have to track them properly and code them properly. It's something we need to look into. If we have lost control of a weapon, it is unacceptable.”
Cumberland Police Department has had a gun missing since at least 2004.
“[We are missing] a .45 handgun,” Crooke said. “I come here in 2004, and this was issued prior.”
But Chief Michael Crooke said he believes Cumberland’s weapon wasn’t “lost” either.
“I believe we have it,” he said. “It's just, you know, there wasn't good record keeping prior to me being here on some of this stuff. They didn't track it real well. It's my responsibility. I get that. But, I just think ever since I've been here, we've really done a lot better job of our record keeping.”
“A GREAT RESOURCE”
Zionsville received four M-16’s and 15 M-1 Garand rifles from World War II from the surplus program.
“These are for our honor guard,” explained Chief Knox. “I couldn't afford to buy these. How responsible would I be if I went out and bought a bunch of old M1 Garands? Many agencies across the nation do this. Our taxpayers have already paid for this. And, with budgets being as they are, why spend the local dollars when folks have already paid for this?”
“It's been a very good program to IMPD,” agreed Washington. “We have gotten many nice assets from the federal government.”
Many departments get far more than weapons under the program.
“We’ve seen everything from forensic microscopes to office equipment and vehicles,” Washington said. “That’s huge. Anything they send us that we don't have to purchase out of our budget is a savings. It's a total offset to our budget.”
“This cost me absolutely nothing,” Knox said, slamming the hood down on a camouflaged Humvee with Zionsville PD written on the side of it. “I had to put a battery in it. That’s it.”
“It definitely plows through anything,” agreed Chief Crooke, pointing to his department’s own recently acquired Humvee. “I believe this one came from Northern Wisconsin. It only cost us about $400 to get it shipped here. We’ve gotten first aid kits, tool boxes that we’ve turned into first aid kits, flares, and even classroom desks. And, of course our department has had rifles and handguns they were able to get prior to me coming here.”
Cumberland also got a new transport van and a tactical truck in 2011, initially valued by the Pentagon at $39,052.
None of those items is missing.
Like many states, Indiana’s LESO 1033 program has a “middleman” of sorts.
Since 2005, the state’s Department of Administration has acted as a facilitator, taking in applications for federal surplus equipment and passing them along to the DLA. Before that, the program was administered by the Indiana National Guard.
“We work on the program in an administrative capacity only,” said IDOA Communications Director Connie Smith. “Questions about transferring the program back have been over what is the best use of time for the National Guard or the Indiana State Police. There are no law enforcement duties in our administrative role. So, there’s been no formal discussion of transferring it.”
A spokesman for Governor Mike Pence would only say he is “reviewing the state’s options.”
Right now, the LESO program is coordinated by Indiana’s State and Federal Surplus Director Bob Flake. He wouldn’t speak with I-Team 8 about the program on camera, referring all questions instead to Smith.
“For security reasons, we cannot confirm the exact number or models, but most of those that are missing are .45 caliber handguns. I can say that the first weapon was reported missing in Indiana in 1998,” Smith said.
But, Smith said the state does not track how many weapons are reported missing in each year, only which serial numbers have come up missing.
“That, again, is for local law enforcement. They are in charge of keeping track of their own assets,” Smith said.
“Obviously, it is a concern,” Crooke agreed. “We’re looking. It hasn't turned up, but I do believe it will.”
But, it may be too late for Indiana.
Flake sent an email to police departments across the state late last month after another gun was reported missing. In it, he warns that the threat of a permanent ban from the LESO 1033 program is very real. If that happens, police across the state wouldn’t just lose out on the ability to get low or no cost weapons, but would no longer receive any of the items they've come to count on.
Asked by I-Team 8 if that could happen, McCaskill’s simple reply was “yes.”
Flake told I-Team 8 by phone that the only way to avoid losing the program is by convincing the Pentagon that Indiana is serious about accountability. That starts with finding those missing guns.
But, even then, there are no guarantees.
The state does not conduct its own compliance inspections because it doesn’t have the resources to do so, Smith said.
But, the Pentagon does.
A bi-annual “Program Compliance Review” was conducted in Indiana at the end of January 2013. The results of that review, which aren’t publicly available yet, will very likely determine Indiana’s future with the program.
"This is a resource we would no longer have available to us,” Knox said. “If I'm going to then be required to go spend our local tax dollars to acquire a piece of equipment, that can be rather expensive. So, yeah. This is a big deal.”