Friday 22 September 2023

Philadelphia sheriff denies report claiming office is missing 185 guns — blames controller for failing to audit previous administrations

 Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal disputed a recent controller report claiming her office is missing 185 guns.

Earlier this week, the city's acting controller, Charles Edacheril, released an audit report as a follow-up to a 2020 report that previously found that the sheriff's office could not account for more than 200 firearms.

The Office of the Controller reported in November 2020 that the sheriff's office could not locate 101 service guns and 109 confiscated firearms.

Then-Controller Rebecca Rhynhart called the findings "unacceptable."

"The public needs to trust that the Sheriff's Office is a reliable steward of its own property, as well as the personal property given to the Sheriff's Office for safekeeping," Rhynhart stated. "I want to thank Sheriff Bilal and her office for their cooperation during this investigation. While many of the issues identified predate Sheriff Bilal's administration, I hope that she will take quick action to track down the missing guns, if possible, and ensure proper maintenance of the gun inventory moving forward."

The controller found that the office's firearms record-keeping was "inadequate and incomplete."

"Investigators found firearms piled on the floor and haphazardly stored in various boxes, cabinets and barrels," the Office of the Controller reported. "Some weapons were stored still loaded, which is against common practice firearm storage procedures for both individuals and law enforcement agencies."

On Wednesday, the controller released a follow-up audit report, claiming the sheriff's office was still missing one shotgun, four semi-automatic handguns, and 71 revolvers/handguns.

"After reviewing the materials, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to account for 25 out of the original list of 101 missing service firearms reported in November 2020. However, there is still insufficient evidence to account for the whereabouts of other 76 service firearms and 109 Protection From Abuse (PFA) weapons reported as missing," Edacheril wrote in a letter Wednesday addressed to Bilal.

During the 2024 budget hearing, the sheriff's office claimed that all but 20 of the 101 missing service weapons were located, according to the controller. However, the controller's report stated that the office failed to provide sufficient documentation to prove those claims.

"While the Sheriff's Office indicated that many of the missing guns were properly disposed of after the initial investigations over the last three years, the Controller's Office found insufficient documentation to confirm the previous statements," the report stated.

"There needs to be sufficient identifying information to confirm the disposition of these guns," Edacheril explained. "This requires documentation to confirm weapons were properly disposed of, such as burned, or located and reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC)."

On Thursday, Bilal and the city's undersheriff, Tariq El-Shabazz, held a press conference addressing the controller's report. Bilal shared photographs of the sheriff's office from when her administration took over in 2020.

"That's where past administrations kept records in firearms," Bilal stated while showing photos of disorganized stacked boxes. "On the floor. In the corner."

The sheriff blamed previous administrations for poor record-keeping practices that led to unaccounted-for firearms. She also shifted the blame to the Office of the Controller for failing to audit her predecessors.

"If the controller would have done their job ten years ago and audited that office, maybe it wouldn't have been in that condition when I took office," she continued. "Maybe if they had audited it five years ago."

According to Bilal, the controller's most recent report contained "misleading statements."

El-Shabazz argued, "We can't verify what came in this office in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019."

"But we can damn sure verify by everything what came in this office in 2020 to this date," he added.

Bilal claimed that her administration was able to track down 58 firearms and that only 20 were still considered missing.

"We presumed 18 had been traded or burned. Three firearms were duplicates of the city's controller list," she said.

Bilal accused the controller's report of being politically motivated, noting that the upcoming November election is just around the corner.

"They constantly keep trying to put it on this administration," Bilal stated, referring to the missing weapons.

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