POLICE Magazine contributor and retired Reno, Nev., officer Tim Dees says it comes down to balancing community safety and officer safety. "When it comes to keeping these weapons available in patrol cars, you're dealing with two problems, one of which defeats the other: Either the cop has to be able to get the firearm out quickly, which of course means a less secure housing mechanism, or you're going to have a more secure means of retaining the weapon in its housing, which is going toy make it more difficult for the officer to access."
"If the weapons are getting stolen out of the car, it's probably a policy problem," notes retired officer and firearms expert Dave Spaulding who observes that some firearms have been stolen from his local Dayton (Ohio) Police Department.
Spaulding, who retired as a lieutenant with the Montgomery County (Ohio) Sheriff's Department, suggests a two-pronged approach in curtailing weapon thefts from police vehicles.
"There should be a policy where the gun goes back inside the station with the officer at the end of his shift and is locked inside the police department or in the home," Spaulding says. "And when they are left in vehicles, they'd better be doing something more than just tossing them in a case and throwing them in the trunk. If it's going to be stored inside the vehicle for greater convenience, then there needs to be some type of locking device."
Chief Bill Harvey of the Ephrata (Pa.) Police Department explains that supervisors can play a key role in preventing firearms thefts. "Prevention is the big key," Harvey says. "It goes back to the old adage, 'It's 10 percent telling, 90 percent checking.' Supervisors here are doing a splendid job of double-checking, reminding officers of the importance of weapon security, and rolling by crime scenes to double-check and make sure that things are locked up. One of the biggest cure-alls is to have a good sergeant out there."
Clear and Present Danger
The message for law enforcement is clear: We need to lock down our weapons or we may lose them. For if law enforcement has learned anything over the past several decades, it is that liability makes or breaks many an agency policy. The first time some dirtbag appropriates a long gun from a law enforcement vehicle and uses it to shoot civilians, it could be the end of the "patrol rifle."
Already, there've been close calls.
- Before the Jefferson Parish (La.) Sheriff's Office recovered an M4 assault rifle stolen from one of its patrol units, officials believe that it had been used in an unsuccessful drive-by attempt on a 19-year-old male.
- At the time of his arrest in the Pima County (Ariz.) Jail parking lot in September 2007, police say Ryan "Rhino" Heidrich had in his possession a puppy, a mask, gloves, a sawed-off shotgun, and an assault rifle. For months, Heidrich had been the subject of a search by local authorities. Police say his goal was to kill an officer with a police-owned gun. The assault rifle in his possession was reportedly stolen from a SWAT team member's pickup as it sat in his driveway. The truck did not have any signs of having been broken into and the involved officer was forced to take 120 hours unpaid leave and taken off the SWAT detail.
Kent Hogge adds that agencies can't afford to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to long gun security. The stakes are just too high.
"If even one rifle is stolen then used to shoot up a neighborhood, the knee jerk reaction of administrators and politicians who either never knew or had forgotten what it is like when the bullets are coming toward them, would be to take them away from everyone instead of making adjustments to security measures and policies to ensure no more get taken.
"Changes need to be made before the horses get out, not after the guns are gone and everyone gets penalized by having their capability to deal effectively with the violent scum they are going to confront reduced by administrators taking the rest of the guns out, too."
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