Philadelphia, PA -- A statement that is often said in jest but that is 100% accurate goes as follows: police think they can somehow keeps drugs off the streets, yet they can't even keep them out of their own prisons. This sentiment rings true in multiple aspects of policing in America, not just drugs. As the following case illustrates, police -- who claim to keep guns off the streets -- can't even keep track of their own guns, hundreds of times over.
In 2019, the City Controller's office received a confidential complaint about 15 "long guns" that went missing from the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office. When investigators looked into the complaint, however, they realized that it was far more than 15 guns.
Over 200 firearms "disappeared" from the inventory and armory of the sheriff's office between 1977 and 2015, according to a yearlong investigation by the City Controller's office.
According to NBC 10, current sheriff, Rochelle Bilal, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that her office has "fully addressed" the problems in the report. The sheriff's office is headed by an elected official and oversees city court security and prisoner transfers. It also is tasked with civil duties, including some auctions of public property and foreclosed houses.
The City Controller's office found that both service weapons and confiscated firearms in evidence cases have all simply gone missing.
- Service firearms: At least 101 weapons consigned to sheriff's deputies could not be accounted for in the office's armory.
- Confiscated weapons: 109 guns taken through a state law called the Protection From Abuse Act, or a PFA firearm, disappeared between 1977 and 2015.
The level of incompetence the investigation found was staggering, up to and including guns lying on the floor outside of lock up -- some of which were loaded.
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"Investigators uncovered numerous deficiencies related to the overall handling and storage of service firearms and PFA weapons by the Sheriff’s Office," the report said. "Specifically, firearms were piled on the floor and haphazardly stored in various locations. Service firearms and PFA weapons were found comingled and some weapons were stored still loaded."
The controller's office said that the investigation took so long because it was hindered -- possibly purposefully -- by "physical disorganization" of the armory and inventory and "poor record-keeping" by the sheriff's office.
When they began their investigation, the previous sheriff, Jewell Williams -- who lost her bid for re-election last year -- was uncooperative in the investigation and actually prevented parts of it from happening. Most of their progress was made this year after Bilal took over.
"Controller’s Office staff experienced considerable pushback from the previous sheriff administration, including restricting access to the Armory and preventing interviews with relevant staff," the report said. "However, it should be noted that upon the new sheriff taking office, then the investigation process was cooperative."
The idea that a sheriff would block investigators from seeking out hundreds of missing guns is derelict at best and criminal at worst. However, the new sheriff plans to stop the missing guns case in its tracks.
"All of the issues identified in the Controller’s Report occurred under the prior administration, and my office has worked tirelessly to implement policies and procedures to correct the issues identified in the report," Bilal said. "I am pleased to report that there are new internal audit procedures, our office has been using state-of-the-art weapon tracking software, and a full review of the inventory of both PFA and Service Firearms have been implemented and completed this year during my administration."
We shall see.