by Lee Williams
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has quietly tested every single recovered firearm – even those not used in the commission of crimes – without probable cause or a search warrant for as long as anyone at the department can recall, according to a story published recently by WISHTV.com.
Once the firearms were tested at the police department’s crime lab, the data was then sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which used it to create an illegal gun registry.
Police admit they never obtained search warrants to test the firearms. The testing was done as a matter of policy, whether the guns were used in crimes, held for safekeeping or recovered through other means.
“I-Team 8 is told the Indianapolis department is carrying out this practice without a search warrant or probable cause, making this decades-old practice a possible violation of federal rules and the Fourth Amendment,” the news story states.
Most gun owners who had firearms recovered by IMPD are likely unaware their weapons were tested or that ATF now has their ballistic data as part of a national gun registry.
IMPD Assistant Police Chief Chris Bailey told reporters the practice started decades ago, and he confirmed that officers did not have probable cause or search warrants to conduct the tests.
“Not that we know of. We went back and checked how long this has been going on. A former employee who came on in 1973, and it was happening then in the 1970s, and she worked another 30 years here and retired a couple years ago,” Bailey told WISHTV.com. He added there are currently more than 21,000 firearms in IMPD’s property room.
Bailey said the department’s attorneys are currently examining the testing policy, and that they would make changes if it was determined it violated the U.S. Constitution or other federal rules.
No one at IMPD or the ATF’s Indianapolis Field Office returned calls seeking comment for this story.
No action likely
Indianapolis-based investigative reporter Richard Essex broke the gun-testing story for WISHTV.com.
Unlike most journalists, Essex is a gun owner, who told the Second Amendment Foundation he recently purchased a Smith & Wesson Model 29 “because I’ve always wanted one.”
At one point during his video story, an ATF agent melts down on camera under questioning by Essex.
“It’s the most compelling soundbite I’ve had in over 15 years,” Essex said. “They’re building a national database but they won’t admit it.”
Essex said his story produced eight pages of comments on an Indiana gun owner’s forum. The commenters complained about the unconstitutionality of the testing, ATF’s illegal gun registry and the incredibly lengthy and expensive process needed to get a firearm returned by IMPD.
“For legal gun owners, this story has been a sore subject for many, many years,” Essex told SAF. “It doesn’t take long to find someone who has lost a treasured firearm and waited years to get it back.”
The IMPD, Essex said, claimed they are going to change their policy. “But it’s been over a month and I haven’t heard a thing,” he said. “I doubt they’ll make any changes. They’ll wait for someone to challenge this.”
Greg Burge is a retired IMPD police officer who owns Beech Grove Firearms. Burge told SAF that law enforcement is somewhat “confusing” in Marion County, Indiana.
“IMPD is the primary law enforcement agency in the entire county. They’re the biggest and have been doing whatever they want with firearms for years,” Burge said Monday. “They make it as difficult and cumbersome as possible to get firearms back. We’re not talking about a bank robber who drops his gun while running across a parking lot or a gun found at a murder scene. Basically, any type of incident, like if your car is towed for unpaid parking tickets and your gun was in the console.”
Burge described a typical scenario of how someone’s firearm can end up in IMPD’s property room.
“Let’s say you’re in a crash and knocked out. There’s a gun in your console. The officer can’t send the gun on the gurney with you to the hospital, so they take your gun, your wallet and your cellphone and put it in a bag marked ‘safe’ for safekeeping. Once you’re released from the hospital, you can get your cell and your wallet, but not your gun. You’ll be told IMPD has to ‘process’ it. Keep in mind they would need a search warrant to search your cellphone. Once the gun is tested, ATF now has a ‘fingerprint’ of your gun. Then, ATF will conduct a trace of your firearm and they’ll get the 4473. Six months later, IMPD will tell you that you need to provide proof of ownership, so you’ll need to go to the gun store where you bought it. It can take us several days to dig out the paper receipt. Now, IMPD has three things that identify you as the owner of the firearm, but you still can’t get your gun. You need to make an appointment with the department, get fingerprinted and they’ll run a background check. If you’re lucky, in a year or two they will hand your firearm back,” Burge said.
Burge said he asked department officials numerous times to justify the process.
“If a laptop comes in, we can’t just turn it on without a search warrant. What gives them the right to ‘turn on’ a firearm?” he asked. “The average handgun people carry costs around $500. When they get the runaround from the city and go talk to an attorney for help – and attorneys don’t work for free – they’ll find out it could cost them around $10,000 to get back a $500 handgun. Most don’t. We’re talking about thousands of people who have been victimized.”