March 28, 2008 -- How do Drug Enforcement Administration special agents lose their guns?
Faster than ever, according to a new report from the Department of Justice inspector general. From 2002 to 2007, DEA lost 91 weapons, the audit found. The DEA isn't always reporting the losses of weapons or laptop computers to the proper authorities, and when it does, it often comes weeks -- even years -- after the fact.
But just how do the guns disappear? Let us count the ways.
"Special agent left weapon on roof of car and drove off," reads one incident description. In his report released today, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine included descriptions of how each weapon was said to have been lost.
"May have fallen into trash basket at work," read another. "Left weapon in supermarket." "Left weapon on airplane." One report sounded like it was filed by an agent on Larry Craig patrol, "Left weapon in airport restroom."
The thieves were often brazen. "Stolen from hotel room -- Special Agent out on balcony," one report stated. "Weapon stolen [from] purse while at social function at bar in Jamaica." "It was believed a carpet installer stole it." At least once, the alleged culprit was a family member, "Weapon stolen by Special Agent's son."
But the most common incident, by far, were guns stolen from agents' official or personal vehicles while they were otherwise engaged -- despite DEA regulations which prohibit leaving weapons unattended in autos.
"Stolen from an official government vehicle parked at restaurant while Special Agent had lunch." "Stolen from official government vehicle while agent was exercising." Stolen "while agent was shopping," from a car parked "at a summer rental house," "from official government vehicle parked at convenience store while Special Agent was buying coffee." One was even reportedly stolen from an agent's car while he was at a middle school football game.
Asked about the reported losses, DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said the investigations would have been handled by DEA itself. "Any of those instances would be referred to our internal investigating arm," Courtney said. "We would take the appropriate actions to make sure the agents are educated on how to handle their weapons appropriately."
The inspector general rapped the DEA for losing guns at more than twice the rate his office found in 2002 and for failing to report many of the losses quickly or to the right authorities, just as auditors noted in their 2002 report.
The DEA also loses laptop computers, Fine's auditors found, though they had cut the rate of lost laptops in half since 2002.
In its response to the audit, DEA said it has promulgated new theft and loss reporting policies.