Earlier this week the Houston Police Department admitted that 21 guns were missing from their property room, two of which surfaced again in the hands of criminals.
This is not good news for a department that recently received one heck of a stinger of a black eye when faulty DNA testing procedures tainted hundreds, possibly thousands of cases going back 2 decades.
About the missing guns which, I have to assume, were sold to criminals by police officers, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said:
“The problem with the Houston Police Department and with the Department of Public Safety is they have to hire employees out of the human race. You are going to get some good ones, and you get some bad ones,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t know of any way a person can be screened to be sure they are not going to be a criminal.”
…”It concerns me they are guns that used to be in police custody that are now in the hands of people who are not necessarily our best citizens,” Rosenthal said.
Good point, Chuck. Meanwhile:
Criminal defense lawyer Kent Schaffer said he’s concerned evidence has walked away from “what should be the safest place in town.”
“Whether it’s needed now isn’t relevant. If a case gets reversed and they go back to trial, the evidence is missing,” Schaffer said.
“We are committed to establish and provide proper security protocols and will take steps to ensure there is proper management oversight of evidence and property in our custody. As a matter of fact, it should be noted, it was our own internal checks and balances that led to the discovery of the missing weapons,” [ed. HPD Chief Harold] Hurtt said.
I don’t imagine that Schaffer is too upset – a missing piece of evidence, particularly the weapon used in a crime, could easily be a “get out of jail free” card for one of his clients.
As for Hurtt’s internal checks, they seem to have been too little, too late. I would like to think that evidence (and again, particularly weapons) are treated with a little more precision than is evident in this case. More from the article:
Investigators studying the HPD crime lab and property room found that issues with evidence storage began long before Hurtt’s announcement.
Michael Bromwich, who led that team, found that the 280 boxes of mislabeled evidence resulted from a practice that began in the 1980s when the property room allowed the storage of materials from various HPD divisions in its facilities.
More to the point, verification procedures should have been implemented before now. Bromwich is quoted thusly – circa 2005 – in a follow-up article:
“The property room currently uses a number of forms to track chain of custody,” Bromwich wrote. “The forms are cumbersome and archaic and increase the chances of errors and the risk of misplaced evidence.”
Hindsight tells us that he was correct. A little foresight by a department that had already proven its policies had failed quite dramatically could have prevented this latest humiliation.
As a proponent of law and order and stiff sentences, this is a difficult pill for me to swallow. How are juries believe HPD is trustworthy given the evidence otherwise? And why did a series of police chiefs fail to address known problems with their procedures? Is it asking too much for public servants to show a little competence and character?
As I said earlier, one has to assume that the weapons were given to criminals in exchange for money. A worst case scenario for HPD, it also seems to be the most likely.
This case demonstrates why governments cannot be completely trusted. Americans live under the best government that has ever existed, yet here we are. As Rosenthal said, the problem that governments have to hire employees out of the human race.
That means that suspicion must be built into the system from the get-go in order to assure that correct outcomes are reached and that everyone involved plays by the rules. No one is above the law, not even the law itself.