The U.S. Park Police has lost track of hundreds of firearms that remain unaccounted for in its inventory, pointing to a "decades-long" run of inaction by the organization's leadership, according to a report from a federal watchdog agency.
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The investigation began when the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General received an anonymous complaint alleging that the park police could not account for government-issued weapons, that it had not conducted weapons inventories and that some missing weapons may have been taken by USPP officers for their own use, the report says.
In the report, released on Wednesday, the OIG said it discovered more than 1,400 weapons that could not be accounted for, some of which should have been destroyed.
One section of the handbook of the National Park Service, which oversees USPP, says the number of firearms the force can have is limited to the "minimum necessary for an effective law enforcement program," according to the report. Despite the fact that the USPP has about 640 sworn officers, OIG investigators found hundreds of extra weapons, including 477 military-style automatic and semiautomatic rifles.
Mary Kendall, the office's deputy inspector general, said in the report that the investigation brought to attention several problems, ranging from errors in record keeping to "glaring nonfeasance by senior command officers."
"Basic tenets of property management and supervisory oversight are missing in their simplest forms," Kendall said in the report. "Commanders, up to and including the Chief of Police, have a lackadaisical attitude toward firearms management."
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Kendall said the evidence showed the force's lack of management created a condition that was primed for theft and misuse of the firearms, as well as the ability to "conceal the fact if weapons were missing."
Though it is unclear if any criminals have gotten a hold of missing weapons, investigators suggested in the report that Park Police officials may not have known if they did, due to the force's lack of a sufficient inventory system.
Investigators also said they have "little confidence" that the USPP will follow up on the 10 recommendations laid out in the report "without direct and frequent oversight," in part because they found similar problems within the force in 2008 and 2009 that remained unresolved.
In 2008, for example, the OIG said a lack of management within USPP "adversely affected the level of security" at the national monuments and parks the force is tasked with monitoring.
Kendall said in the report that the OIG inteds to conduct a series of reviews and inspections to address the issue of USPP's accountability.
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The force has 45 days to respond to the OIG with a plan to address its recommendations.
Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the National Park Service, told The Washington Post that Chief of Police Teresa Chambers has been ordered to implement the inspector general's recommendations "without delay," including an immediate weapons inventory.
"I have no tolerance for this management failure," said Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in a statement, according to the Post. "The safety and security of our visitors and employees remain our highest priority."