Recovered guns (Orlando Police Department)
Parents of latchkey kids use an effective strategy to ensure youngsters don’t lose their keys. They loop them onto a shoelace and noose it around Junior’s neck.
Considering the unnerving rash of loaded firearms stolen from police vehicles, it’s a tactic Central Florida law enforcement agencies might want to try.
In April, a thief stole an unmarked SUV and two handguns that Orange County drug agents Eric Wheeler and Nicole Hansen left on the floor in a purse during a swim date in Daytona Beach. In July, a submachine gun and three other guns were pinched from an unmarked Orange County sheriff’s vehicle outside a deputy’s Casselberry home.
And in the most recent weapons theft — the first in 20 years involving Winter Park police guns — Winter Park Officer John Combas was relieved of a .223-caliber AR-15 assault rifle with a loaded, 30-round magazine and a .40-caliber Glock pistol with three loaded, 16-round magazines that he left in his undercover car outside his south Orange County home.
Who needs the black market? Just shop at Cops ‘R’ Us.
Combas received a written reprimand Monday for violating department policy that bars officers from ever leaving their guns in their vehicles. Reprimands, however, do precious little seriously to dissuade other cops from that reckless choice. That’s why regional police agencies must consider beefing up penalties for officers who jeopardize the public and other officers by treating their cars as pregnable gun safes.
Not that Central Florida has cornered the black market on stolen police weapons. Headlines show it’s a ubiquitous and persistent problem afflicting law enforcement agencies across the nation.
A 2010 audit by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security concluded that guns lost by government agents not only “pose serious risks to the public and law enforcement officers.” It also pinned most losses on officers “[who] did not properly secure firearms.”
Not only is the cost of taxpayer-funded government property at stake. Lives are.
Guns stolen from unlocked cars have been used to murder two deputies in Brevard and Orange counties since 2012. Those guns weren’t police guns. Still, the potential for mayhem exists.
The bottom line, as a post on LawEnforcement.com noted, is considering that “guns can be stolen from cars, gym lockers and homes … a gun must be safeguarded at all times by law enforcement officers.”
Having policies that dissuade officers from storing guns in their cars at all, or, mandating officers secure them in a frame-mounted gun safe — as most departments do — is the very least police can do. Enhanced penalties for officers who ignore policy and whose weapons are stolen are a necessary deterrent — considering the possible consequences.
After all, in journalism, a judgment error can lead to a correction. Having a police officer recklessly leave loaded weapons in a vehicle can lead to an obituary.