Investigators Exclusive: How often do cops lose their guns or have them stolen?

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- An Eyewitness News exclusive investigation has uncovered a disturbing secret involving New Jersey state troopers -- an alarming number of trooper weapons are missing.

But where they might have ended up is the frightening part.

Unlike New York, New Jersey State Police deserves credit for providing some information about how many service weapons have been lost or stolen in recent years. And while New Jersey officials insist this is not a problem, the agency refused to provide details about how the guns were stolen and whether any have been recovered or used in a crime.

For years, New Jersey's Attorneys General have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying back guns.

"We're going to continue doing everything in our power to make communities safer by getting guns off the streets," AG Jeffrey Chiesa said.

But while the state's top law enforcer touts getting guns off the streets, 17 state police troopers have lost track of their weapons in the past eight years.

Through an open records request and an analysis of state police annual reports, Eyewitness News has learned that from 2006 to 2013, state police troopers have either lost or had their service weapons stolen 17 times.

"This does raise some alarm bells here," retired NYPD Captain Dr. John Eterno said.

Dr. Eterno says while that many stolen and missing guns from a statewide law enforcement agency might seem insignificant, it deserves close scrutiny.

"We have basic information that guns are missing from these officers," he said. "Some are stolen, some not. But we need far more information to query them about what's been done about this."

The documents New Jersey State Police provided were heavily redacted, with key information on how the weapons were stolen -- whether they were taken from a car, from a home, from a locker -- blacked out.

"You might want to know, were they negligent in their weapon safe-guarding?" Dr. Eterno said. "And if they were negligent, that becomes an issue, becomes a key issue not just for the public in terms of safety, but also for the department."

It is unclear if any of the guns were recovered or if they were ever used in a crime. It has happened before, back in 2005, when two men were arrested for firing shots toward a Pennsylvania mall.

The bullets shattered a Macy's department store window. The gun used traced back to one stolen from the car of a New Jeresey State Police trooper. It's something that doesn't surprise retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special agent Matthew Horace.

"When a gun is stolen from a police officer, that gun becomes a crime gun," he said. "And my expectation as an ATF agent is once a gun becomes a crime gun, it's going to be used in a crime somewhere, someday."

A police spokesman says that with 2,500 troopers, the theft or loss of 17 guns in eight years shows "that our record for securing our weapons is very strong, and Captain Stephen Jones says the department has "very strict policies regarding the storage and securing of our weapons."

But is that enough?

"If you lose a gun, and under irresponsible circumstances, you will be disciplined," Horace said. "And the discipline is swift and severe."

The spokesman said that if a trooper loses his weapon or fails to safeguard it, he or she will likely be suspended without pay for one week.

Eyewitness News filed the same Freedom of Information request for stolen gun data with the New York State Police back in January, but so far, no information has been provided.
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