Park Police: 98% of guns accounted for
Washington • The U.S. Park Police says it now has tabs on 98 percent of its firearms and has ordered a thorough review to make sure it stays that way, though members of Congress are still skeptical.
After a blistering report showed shoddy record keeping of the force's arsenal, the Park Police and the National Park Service stressed Friday that they now have a handle on about 2,500 firearms for its 640 sworn officers.
"The accountability of weapons used by our law enforcement personnel is of critical importance and we take the issues raised here very, very seriously," the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, told a joint subcommittee hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform and Natural Resources panels.
But in the case of the mismanaged firearms, the blame game turned into something of a circular firing squad.
"Do you feel a responsibility for what happens or doesn't happen in the Park Police?" Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked the head of the Interior Department's public safety sector.
"The accountability and the responsibility for in this instance, firearms rests at many levels," Kim Thorsen responded.
The Interior Department's inspector general found in a recent report that the Park Police which secure sites in Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco had a "lackadaisical" approach to keeping track of its firearms. In some cases, officers took weapons home and others were shelved instead of destroyed.
"Who should be held accountable for these shortcomings? What type of disciplinary actions will be taken?" Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., asked during Friday's hearing.
"We are still in the investigative phase on this," Jarvis said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, went after Park Police Chief Theresa Chambers after noting that three previous reports, in 2003, 2008 and 2009, showed serious problems with the force's control of its weapons.
Chambers blamed a change in computer systems, trusting lower-level staffers and a lack of follow-up for the mismanaged guns. That irritated Bishop.
"Ms. Chambers, you're throwing everyone in your department under the bus," Bishop said. "How much accountability should you have for that?"
"Full accountability," Chambers acknowledged.
Jarvis later, too, took responsibility, and noted that Chambers was at fault as well.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., noted during Friday's hearing that the report was being sensationalized.
"There is no reason to believe that weapons are missing or that weapons were ever in the hands of unauthorized personnel," Grijalva said.
"An Interior Department task force was able to account for all weapons with the exception of a few weapons assigned to officers who are overseas or on extended leave."
Chaffetz said he's not satisfied with how the Park Police has responded to past concerns about its firearms management.
"Nobody's held accountable," the Utah congressman said. "That's the problem. Has anybody been fired? No. This is not an excusable, 'Oh, sorry, I wouldn't let that happen again.' "
Jarvis said the department is already taking action and to consider the issue solved.
"We will not be back in here other than to report on the findings of this investigation," the park director said.