ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has learned more than two dozen weapons, including military assault rifles, have vanished from local law enforcement agencies.
The weapons were provided at no charge through a military surplus program run by the Department of Defense and administered in Georgia by the Department of Public Safety.
The Clayton County Police Department is one of the law enforcement agencies trying to recover an M-16 that was discovered missing during a state inspection in 2010.
"We can't find it. Anytime a weapon like this ends up missing that has the possibility of ending up in the wrong hands is of concern," said Clayton County Police Spokesman Capt. Angelo Daniel.
An M-16 also is missing from the Gwinnett Sheriff Office.
A SWAT officer said someone broke into his car. A police report said there was no sign of forced entry. State officials reported it stolen.
Lithonia police are looking for an M-14 rifle. According to the director of state division that oversees the excess property program, Lithonia police lost track of the weapon inside their building.
"They don't really know. It was in a room, and when they went back to check only one weapon was there. They have two. One was missing. They don't have a clue," said Excess Property Director Don Sherrod.
Sherrod told Channel 2's Tom Regan the state does regular audits of local law enforcement agencies to make sure they can account for the weapons provided through the military surplus program.
He provided Channel 2 with a rundown of weapons that have been reported as lost or stolen.
- Four M-16 military rifles
- Seven M-14 military rifles
- 13 .45-caliber handguns
- One .38 special
Sherrod said since the program began, thousands of weapons have been given to the local law enforcement agencies. He said it worries him that 25 weapons are missing.
"To me, one is bad," Sherrod said.
The Tallapoosa Police Department is trying to locate three .45-caliber handguns. They were discovered missing during an audit in January. The police chief said the weapons were assigned prior to his taking office and those who received them are deceased.
"It concerns us, especially being weapons. Whether it's a rifle or a pistol, that's just not supposed to be out on the street," said Tallapoosa Police Chief Scott Worthy.
Both the Tallapoosa and Clayton County police departments say they have ongoing investigation to find the missing weapons.
A University of Georgia law professor who has studied the military surplus program said the problem of missing weapons nationwide may be much worse than what has been documented.
"The idea that this equipment could be getting into the hands of criminals is a very scary thing," said law professor Donald Wilkes.
Law enforcement agencies that cannot account for weapons face suspension from the excess property program until they recover the weapons or come up with a plan to prevent future loss of weapons.
The military surplus program has been in operation for decades and provides local law enforcement agencies a vast selection of equipment, including armored personnel carriers to local law enforcement.
Officials say it helps those agencies get weapons and other equipment that they could not afford to purchase.
Humvees proved especially helpful during recent winter storms to rescue stranded motorists. But some politicians, including Rep. Hank Johnson, said the program should be revamped.
"I don't want our society to become militarized and things to feel like we are living in a war zone," Johnson said.
Click on the markers for more details about missing weapons in each area.
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