September 21st, 2023
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office can't account for nearly 200 guns, despite statements the sheriff made suggesting that her office had not misplaced any weapons, according to a new report released by the City Controller.
The 185 firearms that are unaccounted for are a mix of guns that were part of the Sheriff's Office's arsenal and weapons that were confiscated from people subject to protection-from-abuse orders.
Acting City Controller Charles Edacheril and investigators in his office conducted the review as a follow-up to a 2020 report that said the office couldn't account for more than 200 weapons. At the time, the controller said the Sheriff's Office under former Sheriff Jewell Williams had haphazard recordkeeping practices and unclear procedures around handling guns.
During a City Council budget hearing earlier this year, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal said all but 20 of the weapons were accounted for — they were either located, had been disposed of, or were sold. An April news release on the office's website is titled: "In the Bilal Administration, we have not lost or misplaced any weapons."
But Edacheril wrote in a letter Wednesday to Bilal that there wasn't sufficient evidence to account for 76 Sheriff's Office guns and 109 weapons that were surrendered to the office. The controller still considers the guns unaccounted for and recommended the office report them to police as missing.
Bilal's office did not respond to the report Wednesday. A spokesperson said Bilal plans to host a news conference Thursday to discuss the findings.
She has in the past blamed previous administrations for practicing poor recordkeeping, saying in 2020: "They left us with a crazy mess."
But nearly three years later, the Sheriff's Office can't provide documentation for the whereabouts of several categories of weapons, according to the controller's report.
For example, the Sheriff's Office reported that 46 guns that were "found" had been either traded or burned. But the only documentation offered for 36 of them was that they were on a list of weapons in a folder labeled "Weapons Burn List" that did not include details such as when or where they were disposed of.
The Sheriff's Office also considered 20 guns "presumptively found." For 15 of those guns, the office said there was documentation that other guns that were registered on the same date had been disposed of — but they did not provide a record that those actual guns were destroyed.
Bilal's office said that in addition to the 20 guns that remain unaccounted for, there are 18 more registered to retired Sheriff's Office deputies. Under previous administrations, retirees could opt to take their service weapons with them into retirement.
The Controller's Office recommended that Bilal's office confirm whether retired deputies have the guns in their possession or proof of their disposal.
The report expressed particular concern that one is assumed to be in the possession of former Sheriff John Green, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2019 after pleading guilty to public corruption charges. Bilal made headlines that year because she threw a going-away party for Green before he headed to prison.
The controller's review is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding Bilal, who took office in 2020 after campaigning on a pledge to reform the Sheriff's Office after years of documented dysfunction.
In 2021, top staffers filed a lawsuit alleging that abuse and retaliation was rampant in the office. A sheriff's deputy was arrested last year for allegedly selling weapons that were later used in crimes. Earlier this year, The Inquirer reported that a top legal adviser in the office was illegally working as a defense lawyer.
And in April, The Inquirer found that Bilal's office used $500,000 that was earmarked for new hires to instead grant raises to executives, including Bilal herself. She said her aides tried to double her salary without her knowledge and that Mayor Jim Kenney's administration had indicated it could redirect the funds.