HomeTop StoriesRecords show Philadelphia police have sold nearly 900 used guns. Here's...

Records show Philadelphia police have sold nearly 900 used guns. Here’s what our research found.

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – One way law enforcement agencies work to protect and serve is by taking guns out of the hands of criminals, but each year we find that thousands of guns once used by officers are discovered at crime scenes.

CBS News partnered with nonprofit newsrooms The Trace and Reveal. We surveyed 200 police stations across the country and found one majority sells their weapons when they decide to upgrade their arsenal.

What about our local law enforcement and the possibility that these weapons ended up at crime scenes?

Over a 16-year period ending in 2022, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives identified more than 52,000 weapons recovered from crime scenes that were once used by law enforcement.

A federal court ordered the ATF to release that data. Our partners at Reveal at The Center for Investigative Reporting sued ATF after it denied a public records request.

ATF had the Tiahrt Amendmentwhich prohibits the disclosure of most information about weapons traces.

Many law enforcement agencies did not want to speak on the record about these findings. Frankly, no one in law enforcement is accused of doing anything illegal.

But the number of former police weapons that turned up at the crime scene sparked curiosity. What do local departments in the Delaware Valley do with their used firearms when they purchase new guns?

And what do those affected by gun violence say about these numbers?

‘This is unbelievable. We have a problem.’

“More awareness needs to be created about this,” said Crystal Hamilton of South Philadelphia.

The South Philadelphia mother says in the seven years since her son: The murder of Kristian Hamilton-Arthurshe has helped hundreds of mothers like her who were caught up in their efforts to cope with indescribable loss.

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Since her son died, she says she has learned a lot.

“I heard there was a war going on in Philly,” she said. “I had no idea it was that bad until it happened to me.”

Hamilton-Arthur, a 28-year-old aspiring real estate agent, died in 2017 after police said a car stopped where he was at 22nd and Fitzwater streets. Investigators say those in the car opened fire. His murder is unsolved.

Since then, Hamilton has been on a mission, using her power to draw attention to the vicious circle of gun violence.

She has counseled dozens of mothers through the loss of their children and has lobbied for stricter measures gun control legislation.

“As a mother who lost a child to homicide, I had to join the crowd,” Hamilton said. “I had to turn my pain into purpose. I wanted to find out what was going on, what was happening, because I had no idea. I had no idea.”

It’s no surprise that this mother, an anti-gun violence activist in Philadelphia, was stunned to hear the results of this CBS News and CBS News Philadelphia investigation: that former police weapons have been repeatedly found at crime scenes.

The once ‘law and order’ weapons were apparently now in the hands of bad guys.

“I’m floored,” Hamilton said. ‘I can not believe it. This is incredible. We have a problem.’

How many guns has the Philadelphia Police Department sold?

More data uncovered by CBS News data journalists shows that nearly 900 former Philadelphia police guns were sold legally between 2006 and 2022. A department spokesperson said these numbers represent officers who were allowed to purchase their firearms when the department purchased new weapons or the officer retired. .

The survey shows that this practice is common across dozens of departments we contacted for comment and information. This included the county sheriff’s departments, local police, the city of Allentown and Philadelphia.

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On the fifth floor of Philadelphia’s Public Services Building, Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel gave CBS News Philadelphia a sit-down interview to talk about our findings and explain his department’s policies.

“We here in the department take our guns and sell them back to the manufacturer,” Bethel said. “Half of our weapons, as you know, are purchased by the officer.”

A department spokesperson said they were not aware of any former Philadelphia police weapons turning up at the crime scene.

Of the data we found on the 52,000 former police weapons found at crime scenes, the ATF will not reveal which police departments once owned these weapons.

“We need to look at it all and see if, as you indicated, we are making a contribution – we talk all the time about how many guns there are in our communities,” Bethel said. “If we find the guns we buy and then take them back and recycle them into crime weapons, then that’s a problem, right, and something we need to talk about and think about.”

We reached out to a spokesperson for Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker, a Democrat, who provided details and findings of our investigation. An email sent earlier this week seeking comment received no response.

In this months-long investigation, CBS News Philadelphia searched for data and spoke to dozens of police sources.

Like Philadelphia, every department we contacted has traded used guns back to a federally licensed firearms dealer in exchange for a discount on new firearm purchases. But how 52,000 law enforcement weapons ended up at the crime scene is not entirely clear.

Nearly every single agency was unaware of that figure.

When CBS News requested public records from law enforcement agencies across the country, some provided serial numbers of the guns they sold. Many authorities have rejected our request for information.

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“This is news to me”

At a press conference last month, lawmakers called on the Pennsylvania Senate to pass a bill ban on ghost weaponswe presented our findings to Democratic lawmakers from Philadelphia.

“That’s insane,” said Democratic state Rep. Amen Brown.

Brown, who represents parts of West Philadelphia, wanted to know more.

“We need to find out who is the irresponsible party in this whole thing,” he said. “There must be a loophole somewhere and as a policymaker and stakeholder I want to look into that more. Because this is news to me.”

House Speaker Joanna McClinton, a Democrat, sounded similar alarms and called for more scrutiny.

“These numbers are astonishing,” McClinton said. “It is very important that police departments across the country have real safeguards and appropriate protocol in place so that when someone retires or is transferred to another department, the officer’s weapon is destroyed or put back into circulation. But we never have to run the risk of them ending up in the police force. streets.”

“Destroy the Gun”

In a city at war to reduce the number of guns on the streets, Crystal Hamilton, the mother of a murder victim, struggled to understand what she called a “dark irony.”

“I can’t even wrap my head around this, but I’m trying,” Hamilton said. ‘If you want to return a weapon, destroy it. This way you reduce the number of existing weapons.’

Nearly every department said their established trade-back programs, in which their guns are sold back to a federally licensed firearms dealer, provide needed financial relief when purchasing new guns. One local department said that without the trade-back program, the cost of new weapons would be nearly $200,000 for a force of more than 125 officers.

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