Several Washington Police Departments Suspended From Surplus Program Over Lost Weapons

Sep 4, 2014

An M16 rifle.
An M16 rifle.
Credit Flickr Photo/Piskami (CC-BY-NC-ND)

State records reveal that in the past two years, four law enforcement departments in Washington state have been suspended from the military surplus program known as 1033.

The government program issues surplus military gear to state and local municipalities who show a need. Under the program, law enforcement agencies can apply to receive everything from Shop-Vacs to mine-resistant vehicles. All they need to pay is the cost of shipping.

Now some of the weapons have gone missing.

The East Wenatchee Police Department was suspended from the program in July last year for losing an assault-style M16 rifle. The rifle was eventually found in a locked locker that belonged to a sergeant at the department. The locker had not been opened or used for some time.

State records show the officer responsible for the weapon was found negligent by the department and was removed from duty as a firearms instructor. 

The Grant County Sheriff’s office was suspended from the program in May last year.  They, too, were missing an M16 rifle.  Sheriff Tom Jones wouldn’t comment on the investigation since it’s still open with the state patrol. 

State records reveal that it’s believed that M16 was stolen. Emails between the department and the state show that the inventory of weapons from the 1033 acquisition were stored on the third floor of the courthouse annex, which had previously been a jail.  The weapons were stored in a cell. 

At some point a detective attempted to open the cell and the lock wouldn’t function. The detective thought the lock was broken so he cut it and replaced it. It wasn’t until sometime later during an inventory that the department realized the rifle was missing.

At that point it became clear that a more likely scenario was that that original lock was not in fact broken, but replaced by someone who was trying to cover up a theft.

Sheriff Jones said the department has taken steps to ensure that this won’t happen again, including limiting access to the storage area.

But he remains troubled by the apparent theft.  “I’m always concerned when equipment goes missing, especially a firearm of any type," Jones said. "That’s why I was very quick to have an outside agency come in and see if we can’t figure out what happened."

The Chelan County Sheriff’s Department also lost an M16. According to state records the department believe the weapon may have been destroyed but they can’t be sure. They’ve been suspended from the program since last May.

Elwha Tribal Police were also suspended from the program in January of this year, but it’s unclear why. It's also unclear what surplus equipment they obtained under the program. The state said tribes work directly with the Defense Logistics Agency, which heads the surplus program.

The DLA wouldn’t confirm that the Elwha tribal police received equipment under the program. Calls to the Elwha Department’s Chief were not returned.