Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Thomas Garcia
Senior writer 

'Missing' firearms found

 


All but one of 17 missing firearms have been located or cleared from the evidence and property logs of the Tucumcari Police Department, according to City Manager Jared Langenegger.

In February, Langenegger issued a report from an inventory conducted by an outside consultant that revealed there were 17 firearms from nine criminal cases that were unaccounted for on TPD’s evidence and property log.

Langenegger said after an internal review, it was determined that many of the weapons were never missing at all; there were several errors in the paperwork, such as misfiling, concerning the firearms.

The cases with the unaccounted firearms were between 2007 and 2014, with the firearms ranging from BB guns to handguns and rifles.

Langenegger said the one remaining firearm could have been released to the owner or destroyed. He said the weapon has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and should the weapon’s serial number be run through the federal database, TPD will be notified.

“This issue has prompted me to look into a new evidence logging system for the department,” said David Lathrom, police chief.

Lathrom said the new system would use individual bar codes that would be attached to any evidence or property taken into custody by officers. He said the system will allow for a digital database that will show the entry, status and release of any and all evidence or property.

Langenegger said Lathrom has been putting together bids for the new system that would cost $6,000 to purchase. He said the missing firearms were the most noted concern raised by the review. That issue has been addressed with the accounting of the weapons and the new system will help to prevent future incidents, Langenegger added.

Most of the issue was caused by paperwork that would show what had been done with the firearm in relation to the cases, said Deputy Chief Pete Rivera.

“The weapons were never stolen,” Rivera said. “The weapons were either released to the rightful owner, stored or have been destroyed.”

Rivera said the inventory was conducted by Moriarty Police Chief Bobby Garcia in October 2016 before the retirement of former TPD chief Jason Braziel. Rivera and Braziel asked Garcia to conduct the inventory review to prepare for the departure of former custodian officer Kenny Fernandez and the retirement of Braziel.

Garcia said Braziel presented him with a formal letter in September asking him to conduct the review of the TPD evidence and property. He was not paid for the review.

“The overall assessment of TPD’s evidence and property logs was not unique; this happens to evidence rooms of smaller departments frequently,” Garcia said.

Garcia said Tucumcari did not have a good records management system at the time he conducted the review.

He said many times the problem with the documents or logs of evidence and property at smaller departments are due to the duties being assigned as a side duty to an officer — the evidence custodian placed in charge is also a patrol officer or detective; they have other duties on top of evidence and property logs.

Another issue is officer turnover — if a new evidence custodian is assigned, they are either trained or start a different system of logging and accounting, he said.

In addition, former State Police Lt. Nathan Wallace conducted an operational review of the department, which identified deficiencies in field training, reporting of incidents, investigations and personnel administration.

Langenegger said the issues are going to take some time to fix, but the city and Lathrom are working towards the improvement of the department.

 

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