Police in Flint, Michigan—a town consistently ranked as America's most dangerous city—have lost track of a bundle of department-owned guns, a new report says. Worse, the guns are being used in crimes across the state.
In total, "17 service pistols and shotguns belonging to Flint police are officially listed as stolen, while another 22 guns used by Flint police are listed as lost or missing — including a sub-machine gun and a short-barreled shotgun," reads the report from The Flint Journal.
The department's losses, due to "poor record keeping, break-ins and questionable gun storage practices" came in the wake of a "long-overdue inventory" of the police property room in February, the paper found.
That's just the beginning. The tale of how one gun was lost, found, used by a 15-year old in a robbery, during which he accidentally shot himself—is troubling:
Flint police Officer Cary Wooster was staying at his girlfriend's house in Lansing the night of Aug. 21, 2013, when he decided to store his Smith & Wesson .45-caliber service pistol and holster underneath the driver's seat of his Chevrolet Blazer, according to records obtained from Flint police.
Wooster told supervisors he stored the weapon in his vehicle for the safety of his girlfriend's 5-year-old child who lived at the home. He left his girlfriend's home around 6 a.m. the next day to report for his shift in Flint, the holster still visible under the seat, but his vehicle broke down after exiting Interstate 69 near Grand Traverse Street.
Another Flint officer found Wooster waiting on the side of the road and offered to give him a ride to the department. Wooster locked his vehicle and left. He returned nearly a half hour later to find the driver door ajar.
The gun and holster were gone.
Just over a month later, a 15-year-old boy was near the Greenwood Quickmart in Jackson when he found Wooster's gun under some leaves, according to a police report obtained by The Flint Journal from Jackson police.
The boy picked up the gun.
Days later, the boy and his friend, also a 15-year-old, were staying the night at the boy's home. The two teens looked at and held the gun. The next day, the boys would put it to use.
The 15-year-old and his friend found a local drug dealer, also a 15-year-old, and asked to buy marijuana.
After the dealer gave the pair nearly a half-pound of pot, police records show the boy's friend pulled up his shirt and showed the gun to the drug dealer.
"You're not getting paid," the boy's friend told the dealer, according to the police report.
The two teens ran away, the boy told police. As they ran, the boy who found the gun said he heard a bang. The gun had gone off and shot his friend in the leg.
Wooster told The Flint Journal he was never informed his gun was discovered in Jackson, and he was unaware that it was ever used in a crime.
The boy was hospitalized with a non-life-threatening injury, and police sought a warrant for him for armed robbery. The boy who found the gun was lodged for carrying a concealed weapon and receiving and concealing stolen property. Police sought a warrant for delivery of marijuana for the drug dealer.
Tolbert said Wooster was disciplined for the incident. He is retired from the department.
There were other cases of weapons going missing from officers' vehicles, as well, as well as some who reported their weapons stolen from inside their homes. "It could happen to anybody," Former Flint officer Dan Allen told the Flint Journal, after his service pistol was stolen from his home. That gun was later recovered by Detroit police in connection with a crime in that city, though it is not clear what kind of crime it was.
In its totality, the report shines a light on the weapons accountability issues that have plagued many police departments across the country. "Documentation could not be found for any complete inventory review in the past three decades at the department, although a partial inventory was conducted in 2003, according to police," reads the report.
In an investigation last year, Fusion found that several police departments had lost track of military-issued weapons given to them through the Department of Defense's controversial "1033 Program," which transfers military gear to local police departments.
In one of the cases Fusion uncovered, police were turning around and selling the weapons for profit— taking advantage of sloppy bookkeeping.
Flint's police chief James Tolbert "wasn't able to dismiss the possibility that some of the firearms may have been taken by people associated with the department," the report says.
For all the cases where the missing guns in Flint have been recovered, there are still some many weapons that remain huge question marks, looming over the department. (Chief Tolbert has said they aren't sure exactly how many are actually missing, citing paperwork issues. So, those remain "unaccounted" for.)
Tolbert said that he would try to find a way to reduce the amount of weapons owned by his department, saying that major cuts over the years mean that the department might have an arsenal too big to manage. "Why do we need them?" he asked the Flint Journal.
But since he's started as police chief, Tolbert said that no weapons have been reported missing.
"I guarantee you, it won't happen like that anymore," Tolbert said.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.