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Park Police under fire for losing track of firearms

Guns out of control? » Utah congressmen press Park Police on alleged misuse, lack of accountability on guns.

First Published Aug 01 2013 03:39 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:31 pm

Washington • A U.S. Park Police officer detailed to President Barack Obama’s inauguration took home a not-so-official souvenir: a semi-automatic rifle.

Another officer in San Francisco stored an agency shotgun at his house.

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And the Park Police’s former chief kept his service revolver after he’d retired only to have it taken away when a trainer later noticed it was government property.

Those are among the findings of a government report that shows the Park Police lost track of hundreds of weapons, some of which might have ended up in private hands while others were shelved instead of destroyed.

With a force of some 620 sworn officers, the report by the Interior Department inspector general found an excess of 1,400 weapons.

"We found credible evidence of conditions that would allow for theft and misuse of firearms, and the ability to conceal the fact if weapons were missing," the I.G. report details, adding later, "Commanders, up to and including the chief of police, have a lackadaisical attitude toward firearms management."

The I.G.’s report is the subject of a joint hearing Friday by Rep. Rob Bishop’s Natural Resources subcommittee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s Oversight and Government reform subcommittee. Both Utah Republicans are outraged by the report, especially when a report in 2009 detailed similar problems.

"If the president wants some gun control, perhaps he should start with the Park Police," Chaffetz said Thursday, referring to the White House push for firearms restrictions earlier this year.

Chaffetz says the hearing is necessary to make sure the Park Service, which oversees the police force, follows up on the problem and doesn’t just punt it.

"The problem is they said they had solved this before," Chaffetz said. "This was a problem before; it’s a problem again; it’s not acceptable."

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The I.G. report notes it only visited Park Police facilities in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco and a training center in Georgia. There’s no indication national parks in the West were involved.

Bishop, too, said the Park Service has known about this lax record keeping and had yet to act to fix it.

"The question is ‘why didn’t the Park Service do anything to solve this problem ahead of time?’ " the congressman said.

Bishop also said he was concerned about sloppiness revealed in the I.G.’s report, including the tidbit about the former chief keeping his sidearm, a point that is in dispute.

The park police’s former chief, Robert Langston, told CNN that he rejects the assertion in the report that he held on to a handgun and has paperwork showing he turned it in.

"Nobody ever confiscated a gun of mine," Langston told the news network, which first alerted him to the I.G. report’s claim. "I would recall that. Where did they get that?"

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a statement that he has no tolerance for this "management failure" and has ordered the Park Police to implement the 10 recommendations from the I.G. report to fix the lack of oversight on firearms.

"The brave men and women of the U.S. Park Police are professionals who put their life on the line every day protecting our parks for millions to enjoy," Jarvis said. "I am committed to ensuring that all of the necessary systems are in place and followed so that these professionals have the tools to carry out their critical functions while the agency is held to the highest standards and oversight expected of any law enforcement agency."

Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson added, "The report identifies significant, systemic firearms management problems that will be corrected starting today."

Jarvis is expected on the witness stand Friday to answer questions, along with Park Police Chief Theresa Chambers and assistant Inspector General Robert A. Knox.


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