COLUMBIA — “Loose” oversight of firearms gave officers access to between 25 and 30 guns that had been ordered destroyed after judicial proceedings, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said Monday after a monthlong department audit.
Out of roughly 250 guns, two shotguns and one shotgun barrel remain unaccounted for after the audit. Burton speculated that the shotguns might have been sold to officers when the department bought new ones, a practice he said wasn’t unusual. But he said the department has no records of that happening and no way to track down those guns.
The department is now paying about $20,000 to have a company look at its property room policies and make recommendations for any improvements.
“No agency I’ve ever worked for allowed what we were doing,” Burton said of previous oversight of the department’s firearms. “I was pretty surprised and shocked at how loose it was.”
Before becoming chief of the Columbia Police Department in April 2009, Burton had served as police chief of Haltom City, Texas, since 2003 and of Bryan, Texas, from 2001 to 2003.
One of the guns that should have been destroyed, according to the audit, was used in a homicide about 10 years ago. A shotgun that was recovered and appropriated by police had been reported stolen to the Boone County Sheriff’s Department about five years ago. It was being used by the police department until its return to the owner as the result of the audit.
“I had to call the sheriff and tell him, ‘This is one of your customers who reported this stolen five years ago. We’ve been using it,’” Burton said. “That was a little embarrassing, having to make those phone calls.”
Burton said none of the weapons that were supposed to be destroyed was a service weapon, and none was used in the line of duty. That, he said, would have been an "extremely embarrassing" way for the weapons' origin to be publicized.
The audit was prompted by the discovery of paperwork in the office of former Deputy Chief Tom Dresner. Those documents showed that a silencer had been sent by its manufacturer to the department for testing, but no one knew where the silencer was. That prompted current Deputy Chief Steve Monticelli to contact Dresner, who found it in a personal gun locker.
Although Burton said he thought the silencer was accidentally misplaced, the incident gave him pause about the department's firearms oversight.
Although the department faced no legal repercussions for misappropriating the firearms, Burton said it was “just not kosher.”
“It’s just not something we should be doing,” Burton said. “If we need that gun, we should go out and buy it.”
Burton said the department’s problems were most likely the result of too many officers having access to the property room where the firearms are stored, along with relevant records. Now, only Burton, Monticelli and officers they authorize will have access to department firearms.
The audit involved two sergeants and an officer confirming the serial number of each gun the department owned. Burton said he required those making the inventory to actually see each firearm being documented.