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County, city spar over seized guns

The Journal Gazette,
BYLINE: Holly Abrams, The Journal Gazette,

Fort Wayne, IN

Sheriff says parts salable; chief favors total destruction

Fort Wayne officials are still undecided on what to do with thousands of guns a year after an audit said they should be turned over to the sheriff.

The police chief and sheriff disagree on how the guns should be destroyed.

The city’s population is a determining factor in what should be done with the guns, according to an internal city audit released last year. State law requires guns and other assets confiscated by city police be given to the sheriff’s department when a city has a population of more than 250,000.

In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau counted the city’s population at 205,727. In 2009, it estimated the number of residents at 251,591, which included the 2006 Aboite Township annexation.

Sheriff Ken Fries said he contacted city police about turning over the guns around the time the population was believed to have increased. The audit said city police had illegally kept the guns when they should have been given to the sheriff’s department.

“The statute is very clear,” Fries said. “We may need to wait until the (2010) census numbers come in.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 2,000 guns have piled up in the Fort Wayne police property room, Police Chief Rusty York said.

Those guns have been seized since mid-2006, when estimates indicated the city’s population surpassed 250,000.

City Attorney Carol Taylor said Wednesday she is reviewing state law to determine what should be done with the guns. The audit, which covered from November 2007 to November 2008, was released in March 2009. Fries said his department’s attorney, John Feighner, is trying to work out a resolution with Taylor.

York and Fries, meanwhile, are still butting heads on how the guns should be destroyed. Fries maintains the city’s seized guns should be destroyed per court order but that working parts of the weapons could be sold for profit. Fries said his department confiscates about 40 to 50 guns a year. The monetary gain from selling the parts is minimal – “in the thousands,” he said. He did not have an exact figure.

“Even if you have guns that are in horrible conditions there are still internal parts that can be sold,” he said, adding that the money is used for training and for buying equipment.

York’s interpretation of “destroy” is different from the sheriff’s.

“After a case is complete, if a firearm is involved, the court will order that the firearm will be destroyed,” York said, adding he believes no profit should be yielded from the guns.

“I don’t want any parts of those weapons, or those weapons, going back into circulation.”

York said that after the audit, a hold was put on the destruction of any of the guns pending a decision on the matter.

An average of 550 guns are seized by city police each year. The total number of guns in the police department’s property room is estimated at 5,000, including about 3,000 that were going to be destroyed but had not been when the audit was released, York said.

Those guns, he said, are also being held, pending a legal decision on the matter. In the past, guns were destroyed by melting them at Steel Dynamics Inc.

“Storage is not an issue at this point,” York said.

Taylor said she was not sure when she will make a decision on the law’s interpretation.

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