MELBOURNE, Fla. - A military surplus assault rifle missing from the Melbourne Police Department armory has put the city's participation in a government supply program on hold and focused attention on an inefficient inventory system.
The Colt M-16 rifle has been unaccounted for since January, and an investigation into where it went is ongoing, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.
City Manager Mike McNees has asked for a report on the incident from the police department. Many details about what went wrong are unknown or unclear, but officials point to an inefficient inventory system as one factor.
"I think this is a little bit of a wake-up call that we needed a more stout system of inventory," McNees said. "It's probably an isolated issue, but it's a very serious one. I look forward to being able to answer all the questions and say, definitely, we know what happened."
The missing weapon is one of 65 rifles that came to Melbourne through the federal Law Enforcement Support Office, which helps distribute military surplus items to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
In January, police staff were counting the rifles to file a report with the state, which oversees inventory procedures for the federal program. At first, two rifles were unaccounted for, but one was later found after supervisors conducted searches of all officers' patrol cars and lockers.
Melbourne has been suspended from further participation in the federal surplus program, pending outcome of the police department's own investigation and review by the federal Defense Logistic Agency.
That means that the city has not gotten a 1981 armored truck that carries police officers, which it had been expecting to receive through the program from the West Melbourne Police Department. The Melbourne City Council approved the transfer in January.
West Melbourne police spokesman Lt. Rich Cordeau said his department notified the federal government of the change.
"They're in the process of finding another agency to take the vehicle," he said.
McNees said the city has notified the Florida Attorney General and Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the missing gun and invited those agencies to review the city's investigation. He said staffers are reviewing thousands of pages of weapons records and firing records, trying to track what happened to the missing M-16.
Here's what else the city is investigating:
• Whether the gun is fully or semiautomatic. The department is trying to track the pins that convert the guns, McNees said. A letter from Police Chief Steve Mimbs to the state says it is a semiautomatic weapon. But, as McNees said: "Do we know definitively? No."
• Whether it exists as a whole weapon, or has been dismantled into parts. Officials suspect it may have been dismantled. "We don't know for sure it exists as a whole weapon," McNees said.
Emails released after a Florida Today records request show command staff found inefficiencies in the department's inventory system. The records show that efforts have been made to improve the system.
In a Jan. 8 email to Deputy Chief Renee Purden, Cmdr. Ken Bale indicated there may have been previous issues.
"I bring this to your attention because it appears we failed to follow through with (federal property management reporting system) requirements on previous inventory requests and the apparent need to establish accountability for who is responsible for managing our gun inventory," he wrote. An email from the state indicates bad inventory practices could result in the other weapons being removed from the police department.
Mimbs, the police chief, sent a letter to the state agency that manages the federal program in Florida, the Bureau of Federal Property Assistance. He wrote that the missing gun had been entered into federal and state tracking databases and that corrective measures have been taken.
"In the past, the accountability of inventory was assigned to several departments and as we have re-organized and promotions of personnel have occurred, it appears that the accountability of property failed in this instance," he wrote.
His letter says that inventory responsibilities have since been switched to a single person, who will also perform semi-annual audits of surplus property.
A Melbourne police spokesman did not return a request for an interview.
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