CPD audit uncovers improperly obtained weapon

The audit discovered that weapons have gone unidentified and did not follow checkout procedure.

A Columbia Police Department audit of weapons led to policy changes when guns were found to be given to officers without the proper procedure.

The audit, ordered by Chief Ken Burton, found weapons with no identifiable owners and weapons slated to be destroyed were being converted to department use without obtaining a judge’s order, according to a CPD news release.

Burton said there is a process to legally enter such weapons into department use.

“You have to go through a judge and the judge has to award it,” he said. “Once it’s awarded then it can legally be used whether it’s a gun or anything else for that matter. If it's property that we can’t identify, the owner of it can be sometimes awarded to the department.”

Burton said officers have skipped that step at times in recent years.

“It looks like in past years officers would just, if they couldn’t find the owner, they would just go ahead and put the gun into service in the department without getting a judge’s order,” he said. “Then we had some that we had a judge’s order to destroy. Because they were valuable weapons, they didn’t destroy them and put them into service.”

The audit led to new policies, including one requiring the approval of the chief of police for permission to request for the conversion of any item in the Property Room to department use, according to a news release. Once approved, the proper paperwork will head to the court requesting the property be awarded to the department, according to the news release.

“The property will not leave the Property Unit until both requirements (Chief’s approval and judge’s order) have been met,” the news release stated.

Access to the armory will now be limited to the Deputy Chief of Police and personnel approved by him.

“It promotes accountability,” Burton said.

Burton said the audit was initiated after CPD found some irregularities in paperwork left behind by a former employee. He said there was no evidence of officers misusing the firearms once they attained them.

“(There were) just some weapons that we couldn’t find and we started asking around and found just some irregularities,” Burton said.

Burton said officers only used these weapons while on duty.

According to a news release, the department currently owns approximately 250 firearms. The audit involved conducting an inventory and confirmation of every weapon and its corresponding serial number. Of the 250 weapons, two shotguns and one shotgun barrel are unaccounted for. Burton said this is still under investigation.

The audit also found a shotgun recovered in 2005, which was converted to department use. It has since been returned to the owner.

Burton said this is the first time CPD has had to order an audit like this. The current one is still under investigation.

“The department is in the process of contracting with an outside vendor to conduct a complete audit of the Property Room, including all department-owned firearms, in order to determine any additional policies or procedures that need to be changed or implemented in order to meet best practices.”

Burton said he has not heard any response from the public about the incident.

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