Nearly 30 firearms were lost or stolen from the Drug Enforcement Administration over a four-year span, according to a watchdog report released Thursday.
In the majority of cases, the weapons were not recovered, the report found.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded the DEA reported 26 lost or stolen firearms in 24 separate incidents between 2014 and 2018.
The stolen weapons were either handguns or carbine rifles, the report said.
Only 12 of the firearms were recovered.
That’s because agency’s method for tracking lost guns is insufficient, according to the inspector general.
“We identified weaknesses in the DEA’s controls over tracking firearms, less lethal munitions and diversionary devices, which, in our judgment create a risk that the sensitive items may be lost, misplaced or stolen without detection,” the report said.
Lew Schiliro, the former head of the FBI’s New York field office said 26 guns is just a miniscule fraction of the firearms under the DEA’s control. As of February 2019, the DEA had 14,337 firearms in its inventory.
Still, agents need to be more careful he said.
“It is a sacred obligation to safeguard your weapon because if it ends up in the wrong hands, it can hurt a fellow law enforcement official if used in a crime,” he told The Washington Times.
In a statement to the Times, a DEA spokeswoman said it appreciated the inspector general’s review.
“We are addressing the recommendations in the audit and implementing policies and procedures to enhance our oversight in these areas,” the statement said.
In the majority of cases, the firearms were stolen from government vehicles. But other mishaps also led to the disappearance of guns. One agent lost a gun when it was left in a restaurant, while another forgot a weapon while checking out of a hotel.
In the gun and restaurant incidents, neither weapon was recovered.
None of the recovered weapons was used to commit a crime, the inspector general found. It is not known, however, if any of the uncovered weapons were involved in a crime, because DEA does not track such data.
And even if the DEA wanted to track down if the weapons were used in a crime, it would be extremely difficult because of the agency’s antiquated tracking systems the report said.
There is no central database that stores information about weapons to DEA agent and each facility has its own form.
But since the DEA is not following its own policies for issuing guns, its not clear how comprehensive such a database would be.
“We also found that the DEA is circumventing its own policy requirements for issuing and tracking firearms assigned to Special Agents, in order to permanently assign more weapons to an individual than allowed by its polices,” the report said.
The DEA suspended 17 agents for losing their weapon, with the longest penalty running 10 days. Most of the agents were suspended for about five days, although punishments did vary. In the remaining cases, the DEA didn’t issue a suspension because the agent complied with the agency’s policy for storing firearms, according to the report.
Despite the unaccounted firearms, the inspector general said the DEA has improved its weapons tracking over the past decade. Thursday’s report found the number of lost and stolen firearms has decreased by 69 percent from a similar study in 2008.
Still, the inspector general made some recommendations for the DEA to reduce its rate of lost weapons. It encouraged the agency to improve its weapons tracking system, better monitor whether a lost or stolen firearm was used in a crime, and ensure agents were aware of DEA policies.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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