INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - M-16's, M-14's, shotguns and handguns once used on battlefields around the world were donated to local police departments to help protect Indiana streets. But, WISH-TV discovered dozens of them have vanished without a trace.
One of the guns was reported missing in Indiana within the last two weeks.
The guns were once used by American troops, but after they were no longer needed, they were designated as "military surplus," and were donated at little or no cost to police departments across the nation by the U.S. Department of Defense. The transfer of the weapons is handled through the Michigan based U.S. Defense Logistics Agency's (DLA) Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) under a program known as 1033.
In 2011, the last full year of the program, 4,488 weapons were given to local law enforcement and police agencies across the nation. 64 of those weapons were sent to Indiana.
Now, as the search for the guns intensifies, WISH-TV has learned at least 11 Indiana departments--including some in central Indiana--have been suspended from the federal surplus program.
The suspended departments include:
· Chesterfield PD
· Cumberland PD
· Fairmount PD
· Floyd County Sheriff's Dept.
· Goshen PD
· Hartford City PD
· Indianapolis Metropolitan PD
· Lake County Sheriff's Dept.
· Marion County Sheriff's Office
· Princes Lake PD
· Roseland PD
According to figures from the DLA, nearly half of the 66 guns reported missing or stolen since 2010 have been from Indiana. Surrounding states Ohio (11) Michigan (2) and Illinois (1) also have much lower numbers.
Like many states, Indiana's LESO 1033 program has a "middleman" of sorts.
Since 2005, the state's Department of Administration has acted as a facilitator, taking in applications for federal surplus equipment and passing them along to the DLA. Before that, the program was administered by the Indiana National Guard.
"We work on the program in an administrative capacity only," said IDOA Communications Director Connie Smith. "Questions about transferring the program back have been over what is the best use of time for the National Guard or the Indiana State Police. There are no law enforcement duties in our administrative role. So, there's been no formal discussion of transferring it."
A spokesman for Governor Mike Pence would only say he is "reviewing the state's options."
Right now, the LESO program is coordinated by Indiana's State and Federal Surplus Director Bob Flake. He wouldn't speak with I-Team 8 about the program on camera, referring all questions instead to Smith.
"For security reasons, we cannot confirm the exact number or models, but most of those that are missing are .45 caliber handguns. I can say that the first weapon was reported missing in Indiana in 1998," Smith said.
But, Smith said the state does not track how many weapons are reported missing in each year, only which serial numbers have come up missing.
"That, again, is for local law enforcement. They are in charge of keeping track of their own assets," Smith said.
"Obviously, it is a concern," Crooke agreed. "We're looking. It hasn't turned up, but I do believe it will."
But, it may be too late for Indiana.
Flake sent an email to police departments across the state late last month after another gun was reported missing. In it, he warns that the threat of a permanent ban from the LESO 1033 program is very real. If that happens, police across the state wouldn't just lose out on the ability to get low or no cost weapons, but would no longer receive any of the items they've come to count on.
Asked if that could happen, McCaskill's simple reply was "yes."
Flake told WISH-TV by phone that the only way to avoid losing the program is by convincing the Pentagon that Indiana is serious about accountability. That starts with finding those missing guns.
But, even then, there are no guarantees.
The state does not conduct its own compliance inspections because it doesn't have the resources to do so, Smith said.
But, the Pentagon does.
A bi-annual "Program Compliance Review" was conducted in Indiana at the end of January 2013. The results of that review, which aren't publicly available yet, will very likely determine Indiana's future with the program.
"This is a resource we would no longer have available to us," Knox said. "If I'm going to then be required to go spend our local tax dollars to acquire a piece of equipment, that can be rather expensive. So, yeah. This is a big deal."
For the full report on the missing guns, go to WISHTV.com.
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