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July 2, 2008

2008.07.02: NYPD: What Chain of Custody?

Filed under: Criminal Justice — nyclaw01 @ 5:19 pm

From: Letwin, Michael
Sent: Wednesday, July 02, 2008 5:19 PM
To: ALAA MEMBERS; 1199 Members
Subject: NYPD: What Chain of Custody?

July 2, 2008

Audit Faults Police Department for Losing Track of Guns By CHRISTINE HAUSER

Nearly one out of three handguns and rifles that had been turned in to the police could not be immediately accounted for in a Manhattan property clerk’s office, according to a city audit released on Tuesday that criticized the Police Department’s storage procedures.

The audit, conducted by the office of William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, examined the records of 324 weapons chosen at random out of thousands in storage in the Manhattan property division. Ninety-four of them could not be immediately found in their assigned storage areas.

“It’s a case of weapons gone AWOL,” Mr. Thompson said at a news conference on Tuesday.

After the initial search, it was determined that 70 of the 94 weapons had been returned to their owners or destroyed, Mr. Thompson said, while 24 “miraculously” turned up on shelves from where they had previously been missing after several attempts to find them.

“At no time were we given a satisfactory explanation about where the firearms had been, how they had been located or how they had been returned to the same spot that the auditors and the property clerk staff had checked on at earlier dates,” Mr. Thompson said.

“How can it take five attempts to find a 20-gauge shotgun at 1 Police Plaza?” he said.

The property clerk division, which has an office in each borough, catalogs and safeguards property taken into police custody, such as cash, narcotics and weapons. Firearms are turned in by owners whose licenses have expired, or are seized from criminals, or simply found and handed over.

In a statement on Tuesday, Assistant Chief Michael E. Collins, a Police Department spokesman, said the division has more than two million pieces of inventory. In 2007 alone, police officials said, 13,000 firearms were collected.

Mr. Thompson said the results of the audit, which started in June 2007 and looked at records from 1999 to 2007, raised greater concern over bureaucracy than safety. There was no evidence that weapons had been removed for personal use.

Mr. Thompson also said that no particular incident or fear spurred the audit.

In a letter that accompanied the audit, John P. Gerrish, a deputy chief of the Police Department, said that every firearm was accounted for in the audit, although “some required a prolonged effort to locate, given the fact that firearms may at times be removed from their original storage position for court appearances, destruction, etc.”

The report said the Manhattan office had 29,576 handguns and thousands of rifles as of June 2007. It said auditors found rifles stacked on top of one another, some without identifying tags. Some firearms were kept longer than required, the audit found. Police Department regulations require weapons to be reclaimed or disposed of after one year, unless they are needed as evidence.

The report made more than a dozen recommendations. It called for stricter enforcement of the regulation requiring weapons that are not being used in court cases to be destroyed after one year, revamping the storage areas and improving the tracking system. According to Kristen McMahon, a spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office, the audit focused on Manhattan because it is considered the central office in the property clerk division, and policies and procedure manuals are created there.

Chief Collins said the department has already introduced many of the recommendations made in the report, including the selection of a company to install a $28 million electronic tracking system, and taking inventory of its stored firearms.

Mr. Gerrish also noted that the department was evaluating whether to overhaul its shelving system.

Mr. Thompson, who is widely believed to be a contender in the mayor’s race next year, said that the audit did not reflect concerns about leadership of the department, rather on those who oversee the property clerk’s offices. The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has faced speculation over whether he will run for mayor.

“This is a real issue,” Mr. Thompson said in a brief interview after the news conference. “One would hope that it would not be viewed within a political light.”

The audit focused on cash as well as firearms because both are “susceptible” to theft, Mr. Thompson said. In contrast, auditors were satisfied with the property division’s handling of cash, with records reviewed each month.

“The controls there are good,” Mr. Thompson said.

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