INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A new call for action is growing after I-Team 8 discovered guns missing or stolen from police departments across Indiana. Some say a new system is needed to keep the problem from getting worse.
According to figures provided by Indiana State Surplus Director Bob Flake, Indiana receives around $14 million in "surplus" equipment from the military every year. They include guns once used by American troops that are donated to local police departments through the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency's (DLA) Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) under a program known as 1033.
But, as I-Team 8 discovered, some of those M-16's, M-14's, shotguns and handguns have vanished without a trace in states across the country. And, over the last three years, no state has reported more of those military guns "missing" or "stolen" than Indiana.
One of the guns was reported missing in Indiana as recently as within the last two weeks.
Indiana Sheriff's Association Executive Director Steve Luce called I-Team 8's findings "alarming," and said there's no doubt who is responsible for the breakdown in tracking the missing weapons.
"If an agency cannot account for those, then the breakdown's got to be on that agency," Luce said. "You never want to lead a hot list or be part of this type of accountability problem."
Luce says record keeping has been a problem for some departments in the past.
"70 percent of the sheriff's offices in Indiana are rural," Luce said. "Maybe an officer at a small agency is given many tasks. He's not only in charge of inventory, but he's also got so many other tasks he has to do just simply because of staffing. It would be real easy to not focus on all the areas when you should. But, the fact is, once we take custody for those, we're responsible for those. There's a chain of custody that [has to be in place.]"
To ensure that custody is properly tracked, Luce is calling for a new approach.
"We need to probably have a better audit system," he said. "The solution has got to come from all the stakeholders. But, definitely having one central auditing system to track everything. If the federal government and State of Indiana is going to allow law enforcement to take advantage of these programs, I think they all need to work on probably a more consistent type of tracking process."
Eleven Indiana departments are already suspended from the LESO 1033 program ( click here to see the list of suspended departments ) for "accountability or reporting issues regarding weapons." Without a statewide tracking system in place, Luce and others fear the entire state could face a permanent ban from the 1033 program.
"That's not good," Luce said of the potential of a ban. "That's not good for anybody. The real losers would be those departments that are doing what they're supposed to be doing. And, a lot of them are the smaller departments who take advantage of this simply because of their budgets."
"That would be concerning, no question," agreed Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) of a potential expulsion from the 1033 program. "But, we'll have to see what happens first in [tracking missing weapons down]."
Ballard said he's not convinced all of the guns are really "gone."
"Is it a matter of: we still have the weapon and the tracking process was bad? Or, do we know where is it? We don't really know. That's what we're trying to find out right now. It may be in somebody's hands, and it's just the process that the tracking didn't work properly. Hopefully that's the case," Ballard said.
According to Flake, last week DLA inspectors visited 14 police department in and around Northern Indiana. All surplus items they inspected--including guns-- were accounted for.
What role that might play in Indiana being allowed to stay in the surplus program remains to be seen.
Indiana does not conduct its own inspections on LESO 1033 equipment, in part because of a lack of available staff to do so, said Department of Administration Communications Director Connie Smith.
Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Danville) called I-Team 8's findings "very concerning." But, he said legislators could do little to change them because Indiana's portion of the 1033 program is overseen by the state Department of Administration, which answers to Governor Mike Pence.
Last week, a spokesperson from his office said Pence was "reviewing the situation" to determine if additional action was needed by the state. On Tuesday, after repeated requests for reaction to I-Team 8's findings, Pence's office said the Governor would have "no further comment on the matter."
But, one of his former colleagues in Congress is speaking out.
"As a former law enforcement officer, Congressman [Andre] Carson believes that any weapons provided by the Department of Defense to a local law enforcement agency should be maintained with the highest standards of accountability," wrote Carson (D-Indianapolis) Communications Director Blake Johnson in a statement to I-Team
8. "Regardless of the cause, it is unacceptable for weapons to go missing, and, when warranted, the DOD and DLA have every right to suspend future transactions. Law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to get to the bottom of these discrepancies, pursue solutions and earn back the trust of programs like the LESO 1033 that help keep our communities safe."
"We have got to do a better job," agreed Luce. "Even if it takes a little bit of public criticism in a situation like this, nobody wants to be unaccountable for a weapon."
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