Due to accountability issues, the Colorado Springs Police Department has been suspended from the military surplus distribution program that provides gear, including weapons, to police departments.
The suspension will last for "a minimum of 60 days," according to a May 5 letter to the department from Alice Huyler with the Colorado State Patrol, which oversees the surplus program. The suspension is "contingent upon our receipt and approval of a correction action plan."
At issue was the failure of the CSPD during an audit to account for an M-16 rifle obtained through the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service program that's sometimes referred to as the 1033 program.
"Due to the challenge in locating one of the 1033 weapons during the audit," Huyler wrote, "we share a concern with the auditors about the tracking of 1033 weapons in the Colorado Springs Police Department. We require a corrective action plan addressing weapons tracking to address this concern and alleviate the challenge in future audits."
The 1033 program drew national attention after the August 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. That led to news stories about use of surplus military equipment by police departments, school security forces and other agencies.
Over the years, the CSPD acquired three helicopters from Fort Carson, all of which were grounded years ago due to budget cuts. The department also has five Humvees; 140 M-16 A1 rifles outfitted for patrol; 14 M-14 rifles, used by specialized enforcement; an ATV used for special events in parks, and various other goods, such as workout equipment, fleece clothing, backpacks, MREs and rain gear.
Lt. Catherine Buckley, a CSPD spokesperson, previously called the program a "win" for the department, saying, "It's money taxpayers have already spent, and now we get to re-purpose it for the city."
Department spokesman Sgt. Joel Kern notes the M-16 rifle was never "lost," but adds via email, "There were challenges in providing the exact officer the rifle was assigned to."
Noting the M-16 was "secured in a patrol vehicle," Kern adds, "There was a delay in being able to physically present the rifle for inspection and the processes that led to that situation have been identified and are currently being remedied. The department has learned valuable lessons about individual accounting of the equipment assigned to us, and changes in accounting have been implemented."
Deputy Chief Vince Niski, through a spokesperson via email, gave this description of what happened: "After reviewing our records, the Range Masters identified the name of the officer the weapon was assigned to. Upon contacting him, they discovered he had the weapon at his home which is approved by our policy. We responded to his home to verify this was the rifle we were looking for. I would note, the officer e-mailed the appropriate documentation regarding his possession of the rifle on the Saturday before the [State Patrol] inspection. The problem was, he e-mailed it to the wrong person and due to days off it wasn't viewed prior to the inspection on the following Tuesday."
The M-16, which Guns&Ammo reports was introduced during the Vietnam War and is the longest-serving rifle in U.S. military history, is issued to certain CSPD officers and treated as issued equipment like pistols, radios or TASERs, Kern says. He also notes that the suspension's impact will be minimal, because, "We do not regularly receive equipment."
But the suspension comes on the heels of several other issues that raise questions about the department's accountability, including:
• The department's six-month disqualification for grants from the Peace Officers Standards & Training board, from July 1 through Dec. 31, after the CSPD lost its certification due to a lack of required training of nine of its 671 officers last year. It was among about 10 percent of police agencies in the state — and the only one in the Pikes Peak region — that fell out of compliance with POST requirements last year.
Mayor John Suthers has said the department "misinterpreted" the POST rules and that Police Chief Pete Carey and others have "worked diligently" to regain compliance.
• The revelation last month that the department's 2014 take-home vehicle list — containing officers' names and home addresses, and the vehicles' make, model and license plates — were found in the hands of drug dealers in March.
In response to that, the 2016 take-home list, which contains at least 139 vehicles, was revised to remove officers' names and home addresses, and all former lists have been destroyed, the department said, noting the investigation into how the list was compromised continues.
Asked to comment at that time, Suthers said safety of officers is "an absolute priority" and that the investigation is ongoing.
• An internal committee report issued May 19 on use of force that included 11 recommendations — from training to guidance for investigating and documenting use-of-force cases — even as the city paid $100,000 to settle a case in which an officer slammed a handcuffed teen to the floor. The officer retained his job, though he's since left the force, and he wasn't charged with a crime.
All that said, Suthers downplayed those as well as the latest issue regarding the M-16.
"These administrative issues were all addressed and promptly corrected by CSPD," Suthers says through a spokesperson. "I am in regular contact with Chief Carey, and do not have further concern."