Gun policies at the Rutland City Police Department are in question. An audit of the department's evidence intake procedures shows the department has been keeping confiscated guns-- sometimes to use and sometimes to trade for something better.
The audit was conducted by former Vt. public safety commissioner Tom Tremblay. According to the audit, as late as 2011 the Rutland City Police Department was converting seized firearms into departmental use. And if it wasn't good enough for a cop to keep, it got traded in at a gun shop for something else.
At Parro's Gun Shop in Waterbury, police handguns are dropped off for an upgrade. But the shop owner says it's not uncommon for departments to bring in old evidence for a trade in either.
"They'll trade for anything that I have in inventory that they can use. It's a really good program. We take items that are not of any use to a police department and we put them back into use and we issue the city credit," Henry Parro said.
Though he wouldn't comment on what departments bring in the firearms, he did say this is a practice in play in more cities and towns than just Rutland.
Reporter Deanna LeBlanc: Isn't it possible that a firearm could have been used in a crime?
Rutland City Police Chief James Baker: Oh, absolutely.
LeBlanc: And is then converted into department use or had been converted to department use?
Baker: Correct, could be.
New Rutland City Police Chief James Baker, who served 30 years in the state police, ordered the audit after he discovered the history of gun trading. He says to him, the behavior was shocking.
"It probably would have been less concerning to me if there was some written policy here on how to do that," he said. "But there wasn't."
No written policies on what do with seized firearms. So, they weren't breaking any of their own rules. But a 2004 record shows the city police asked Burlington and Vermont State Police about their seized firearm policies-- both departments destroy them. But no changes to Rutland's policy or lack thereof ever came.
"There is a Vermont state statute that applies to this, but it is really directed at the Department of Public Safety. So it kind of is silent on what municipal organizations should be doing with evidence and found property," said Tom Tremblay, who conducted the audit.
For Baker, the trading gun trend is immediately going to stop. He has already taken back many of the weapons already put into department use.
"There are so many things that can go wrong with firearms," he said. "They can get into a bad guy's hands. They can be converted to departmental use and a member of that family commits suicide with the gun. There are so many bad things that can happen."
Tremblay did say it's a good sign that the department reached out for an audit. He said good departments and good leaders are constantly looking for ways to improve and to raise the bar.
The audit says, if the gun was in perfect condition the department would keep it. If it was in anything less than that, they sold it to Parro's for its parts. The audit found some other minor things-- a backlog of evidence, assigning one person to be in charge of evidence. No evidence lost.
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