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Thompson: NYPD Exhibits Lack of Gun Control

thomp.jpgNew York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today released an audit finding that the New York City Police Department’s Manhattan Property Clerk Division (PCD) exhibited disturbingly poor controls over weapons in its custody – with many of them initially missing.

Speaking at a news conference, Thompson harshly criticized the NYPD and insisted that officials take immediate steps to ensure that all firearms are correctly stored and protected at the PCD in Manhattan and in the other four boroughs.

“It’s disgraceful that the NYPD has let its weapons go AWOL,” Thompson said. “We found a stunning lack of organization, order and control. When it came to storing weapons, the NYPD simply wasn’t up to the task.”

Added Thompson: “After my auditors discovered an alarming number of guns gone missing, my auditors returned repeatedly – and the weapons mysteriously materialized. The fact that all of this took place at the NYPD’s main headquarters at One Police Plaza was even more disturbing.”

The audit unearthed a litany of troubling factors that contributed to weapons in disarray. Among the key problems:

*Manhattan PCD officials could not immediately account for or retrieve from their designated storage 94 (29%) of the 324 sampled firearms. Several attempts were made over a number of weeks before the weapons eventually were “found”.
*The Manhattan PCD failed to record pertinent information in its documents that would permit it to readily track and account for the firearms in its custody. The logbooks often were incomplete.
*Firearms were kept by the Manhattan PCD office longer than required by NYPD regulations, which require that weapons be reclaimed or disposed of after the expiration of one year.
*While handguns were stored in brown manila envelopes and on shelves, rifles were tossed about on the floor and piled on top of one another in a disheveled manner (even though they are supposed to be tagged with storage numbers and associated invoice numbers and stored on assigned shelves).

“Based on these conditions, there is limited assurance that firearms brought to the Manhattan PCD office are safe, secure, and out of harms way,” Thompson said.

The NYPD’s PCD offices are required to accept, catalog, and safeguard all property brought into custody. The types of property include cash, narcotics, rifles, handguns, and general property of varying description. In addition, property is categorized as arrest evidence, investigatory, safekeeping, or decedent’s property. The NYPD has established one PCD office in each borough to accept and safeguard property.

In general, property is first brought to neighborhood police precincts, which are responsible for preparing a five-part, carbon copy invoice which describes and categorizes the type of property, the name and address of the owner or claimant, and the name of the officer who recovered or obtained the property. The property and accompanying invoice are delivered to the Manhattan PCD office. Before accepting and signing for the property, the Manhattan PCD clerk at the intake window matches the information on the invoice with the actual property and enters the invoice number and a storage number in the intake logbook.

Thompson’s audit – which focused solely on the Manhattan PCD office and reviewed Fiscal Years 1999 to 2007 –, determined that the Manhattan PCD cannot accurately account for the number of firearms in its custody because there are no written NYPD procedures governing inventory of firearms in the custody of the PDC offices.

In addition, auditors noted that the Manhattan PCD does not keep adequate sequential numbering systems.

“PCD does not maintain an electronic database of the property in its custody,” Thompson said. “Its control systems are completely manual. The NYPD officials tell us that they have selected a vendor to build a Property Evidence Tracking System. While I am encouraged by this effort, it is vital that the NYPD ensure that this program will come on line as quickly as possible.”

PCD separates weapons them into handguns and rifles and stores them in separate locked areas. Firearms that are bought in as investigatory or arrest evidence in a criminal proceeding remain at the Manhattan PCD office until the case has been adjudicated. Due to the confidential nature of crimes involving these firearms, the audit concentrated on firearms brought in for safekeeping that should have been destroyed.

When Thompson’s auditors reviewed PCD records, they found that 94 (29%) of the 324 sampled firearms in Manhattan PCD custody for safekeeping that were selected by auditors from the firearm logbooks were not accounted for or found in their designated storage area when auditors first attempted to locate them. The remaining 230 firearms were accounted for or found on the first attempt.

Thompson’s auditors had to accompany PCD staff on a number of different days before the 94 firearms were found.

Of the 94 firearms, 24 (26%) were eventually found in Manhattan PCD custody; 11 of these firearms took four or five attempts over a number of weeks before they were found. The remaining 70 (74%) firearms required several attempts before the Manhattan PCD could account for their disposition; these firearms were either returned to owners or destroyed.

As a result of the audit Thompson made 13 recommendations, including that the NYPD should:

*Overhaul the rifle storage area of the Manhattan PCD so it can store rifles according to the year received and provide a storage system that will separate rifles on the shelves.
*Consider replacing the manual system with a computerized system to improve the controls over the handling of property brought in to PCD custody.
*Ensure that the Manhattan PCD follow the procedures governing the destruction of firearms after the allotted time of one year, as required by Penal Law.
*Implement a system that red-flags firearms that are stored at the Manhattan PCD facility beyond one year and identifies the date after which they should be sent to Pearson Place for destruction.
*Immediately inventory all firearms in the Manhattan PCD’s possession.
*Establish written procedures that require the Manhattan PCD to conduct and maintain an inventory system to accurately account for all firearms that are in its custody, as well as firearms that are returned and disposed of.

In their response, NYPD officials generally agreed with four recommendations and insisted most of the others were not valid because they were taking steps to address the problems.

“The NYPD says it already has adequate policies in place to accurately account for all firearms in their protections, but these findings show that hasn’t been taking place,” Thompson said. “If the NYPD followed its own policies over the past eight years, my office would not have uncovered this problem. I stand by the audit’s recommendations and strongly urge the NYPD to fix these problems now.

(YWN Desk)

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