The good news is that the United States Park Police is a fairly small organization, a branch of the government with about 600 officers that mostly protects parks in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (In DC, it serves as a foil to Rep. Louie Gohmert, among other duties.) This is good news because a new report suggests that the agency seemingly has no idea how many guns it has, or where those guns are, or what happened to the guns it doesn't know it's missing.
Compiled by Inspector General for the Department of the Interior, the report (which is embedded at the end of this article) outlines a remarkable failure of the organization to pay attention to its firearms stockpile. It's a problem made even worse by the fact that this is not the first time the agency has faced the critique. In both 2008 and 2009, overviews of procedures at the Park Police and within Interior suggested "a disconcerting attitude toward firearms accountability within USPP."
An example, from the report:
During our reviews of USPP field office armories, however, we discovered more than 1,400 extra weapons. These included 477 military-style automatic and semiautomatic rifles. The USPP has a force of approximately 640 sworn officers. We also discovered a number of weapons that, according to USPP officials, fulfilled no operational need.
In other words, the Park Police had an extra two guns for every one of its officers — and enough assault weapons to arm three-quarters of its force. In April, a Park Police facility near DC found two automatic rifles that it didn't know that it had and for which it had no records. The problem being, of course, that those weapons could have vanished without anyone knowing they existed.
People making off with weapons is apparently not uncommon for the agency. One former chief from the Park Police retired, but took his handgun with him. Ten years later, when he was invited to a qualification course run by an official from House and Urban Development, that official discovered that the gun actually belonged to the Park Police. It was returned to the agency.
At the same time, the Park Police have those weapons that fulfill "no operational need." Some of those were identified in the Washington Post's coverage of the findings.
Investigators concluded that the Park Police not only can’t keep track of the guns it has but it hasn’t disposed of guns more suited for collectors than lawmen. The agency still has 20 M1 Garand rifles, the standard field gun in World War II, and four Prohibition-era tommy guns. The inspector general noted that these weapons are of “limited” use.
Meanwhile, the guns keep pouring in. In January, a weapons custodian in DC accepted 198 handguns that he didn't need from ATF for three reasons. One, he wanted to "develop a relationship" with the agency. Two, he figured he could use the spare parts. Three, if there was a dirty bomb that contaminated the agency's existing guns, he figured they could use these ones. The Inspector General's assessment of those rationales is not complimentary, particularly since the parts form the ATF guns didn't work with the Park Police's existing inventory. And also because the custodian never filed paperwork for the guns, since he figured he'd destroy them, but didn't.
Even the guns the agency thinks it loses aren't necessarily lost. The Post:
In another instance, the agency in October 2011 sent a list of 18 pistols, shotguns and rifles it described as lost or stolen to a national database. But it never launched an internal investigation. The guns, it turned out, had been destroyed or given to other agencies — or they were still in Park Police possession, according to the report. One Remington shotgun remains missing.
The Park Police has more guns than it knows, is missing guns it didn't know it had, is reporting guns missing that aren't, and is flush with more powerful guns than it needs and with guns that are useless for its enforcement. The Aristocrats!
Photo: A 2008 file photo of a Park Police officer sleeping in his vehicle. (AP)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.