The U.S. Park Police lost track of a huge supply of handguns, rifles and shotguns, according to a harsh government watchdog report released Thursday.
The inspector general's office for the Department of the Interior discovered that the Park Police, which guards the National Mall in Washington and other major American landmarks, had "no proper accounting for hundreds of weapons."
"We discovered hundreds of handguns, rifles, and shotguns not accounted for on the official USPP inventory," the watchdog agency said in a release. "As recently as April 2013, two automatic rifles were discovered during a firearms search for which USPP had no prior knowledge."
U.S. Park Police officers at the Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square on February 5, 2012. (Getty Images)
While the review found no indication that any weapons fell into criminal hands, the agency "found credible evidence of conditions that would allow for theft and misuse of firearms, and the ability to conceal the fact if weapons were missing."
"We found that staff at all levels — from firearms program managers to their employees — had no clear idea of how many weapons they maintained due to incomplete and poorly managed inventory controls," the report stated.
U.S. Park Police officers under the blooming cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. on March 22, 2012. (Getty Images)
According to the inspector general's office, the agency received an anonymous complaint that the Park Police could not account for government-issued military-style rifles and that some weapons may have been taken by officers for their personal use. The agency conducted several unannounced reviews of weapons storage facilities in Washington, D.C., California, New York and Georgia, turning up hundreds of weapons not listed on official inventory records -- many with serial numbers not officially registered in the Park Police system -- and other weapons in areas other than they were supposed to be kept.
"Basic tenets of property management and supervisory oversight are missing in their simplest forms," Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers. "Commanders, up to and including the Chief of Police, have a lackadaisical attitude toward firearms management. Historical evidence indicates that this indifference is a product of years of inattention to administrative detail and management principles."
The review found that one officer on duty for President Barack Obama's inauguration in January held onto a semiautomatic rifle without authorization and kept it at his home. In San Francisco, the agency found a Park Police officer similarly kept a shotgun in his home without permission.
The inspector general's office gave 10 recommendations to improve firearms management and accountability, including to immediately conduct a complete weapons inventory, stop using "informal property accountability records" like spreadsheets, and reduce the weapons inventory to no more than the minimum amount necessary.
A spokesman for the National Park Service told The Washington Post, which first reported the review, they had been ordered to implement the recommendations "without delay."