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November 19, 2020

More than 200 firearms missing from the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, report says

The investigation by Controller Rebecca Rhynhart found guns stored 'haphazardly'

Investigations Firearms
Philadelphia-Sheriff-firearms Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

The investigation of the weapon inventory of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, by the City Controller's Officer, found there are 101 missing service firearms and 109 missing guns that had been surrendered as part of protection from abuse orders.

An investigation into all the firearms in the possession of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office showed more than 200 weapons were missing from its armory, a potentially dangerous situation caused by inconsistencies in weapons storage and management.

The report by the Philadelphia City Controller's Office says guns were stored "haphazardly" in several disorganized boxes, and some guns were loaded while in storage.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said she received a complaint that 15 rifles and shotguns had been missing from the Sheriff's Office gun inventory since 2016, so she launched an investigation into all of the office's firearms. 

Officials found 101 of the sheriff's office's service firearms and 109 weapons surrendered as a result of protection from abuse orders were missing from the Sheriff's Office's inventory, as well as other problems with the management of the gun inventory, according a press release from the controller's office on Wednesday.

"It's unacceptable that more than 200 guns that should be in the Sheriff's Office custody cannot be located," Controller Rhynhart said. "The public needs to trust that the Sheriff's Office is a reliable steward of its own property, as well as the personal property given to the Sheriff's Office for safekeeping." 

The controller's office did an on-site inspection of all the firearms at the Sheriff's Office, which consists of the service firearms carried by deputies while executing their official duties and PFA weapons temporarily given to the sheriff's office for safekeeping by those subject to the Protection From Abuse Act. 

The investigation reviewed the policies and procedures for managing the sheriff's gun inventory, conducted interviews and reviewed record-keeping data to reach this conclusion.

What they found was an incredibly inconsistent storage system. There is no comprehensive and centralized tracking system for service firearms nor is there a master list of all service firearms. In the PFA weapons logbook, some serial numbers had not been recorded since 2009.

Prior to this investigation, the sheriff's office had never performed an inventory of service firearms or PFA weapons.

Additionally, there was a lack of formal inventory management procedures showing sheriff's office employees how weapons should be stored, what tracking information should be recorded and how to dispose of weapons.

Of the 101 missing service firearms, 25 appeared to still be assigned to former deputy sheriffs, with no records showing they were returned, which indicates the office has no policy to return service firearms. This could lead to theft and compromise the armory staff's safety, Rhynhart's report concluded.

Investigators found firearms piled on the floor and "haphazardly" stored in boxes, cabinets, and barrels — some of the firearms still loaded while in storage, and PFA weapons and service firearms were found stored in the wrong rooms — for instance, a PFA weapon was located in the service firearm armory.

The controller's report blamed the lack of detailed, written policies and procedures for many of the issues outlined in the report. 

Rhynhart said many of the issues pre-date Sheriff Rochelle Bilal's administration – Bilal was sworn in as sheriff on Jan. 6, 2020.

Sheriff Bilal held a press conference Wednesday to address this report, and he said as of Nov. 17 all firearms have been entered into the armory system and have been unloaded for safe storage. In the first six months of 2020, Bilal said sheriff's office staff reorganized the armory room and created a master list of the inventory.

"We truly appreciate the work of the Controller's Office to identify ways to improve the operation of the Sheriff's Office. 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," Sheriff 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. All weapons have been inventoried. There is a new day in the handling of this office's day-to-day affairs under my watch." 

The controller's office issued several recommendations to improve storage and management of the gun inventory, which included creating policies and procedures for tracking and maintaining inventory of these weapons.

Read the entire report from the Philadelphia Controller's Office below:

Philadelphia Sheriffs Office missing firearms by on Scribd

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