Kate Steinle killing: Bill to curb police gun thefts signed by Governor Brown

September 26, 2016
The Mercury News

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation, inspired by two high-profile Bay Area killings, that requires police officers — like other gun owners — to lock up their weapons when they park their squad cars and personal vehicles.

The new law, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill, comes more than a year after Kate Steinle was shot in the back on a San Francisco pier by a drifter with a federal agent’s stolen gun, and an Oakland street artist was killed with another agent’s stolen gun while painting an anti-violence mural under a  freeway overpass.

Under the new legislation, officers, like everyone else, could face an infraction and a $1,000 fine for leaving a weapon unsecured.

The new law closes a loophole so law enforcement officers – just like every all gun owners – must lock away guns when leaving them in a car.  “This is a matter of basic public safety and common sense,” Hill said Monday afternoon. He said the governor never discussed the bill with him and that he wasn’t completely confident Brown would sign it. “But it just made too much sense.”

An investigation by this news organization revealed that law enforcement agents in California frequently lose possession of their weapons: More than 944 guns were lost or stolen from police since 2010, an alarming number that also helped propel Rep. Mark DeSaulnier to introduce similar legislation in Congress to crack down on cops who don’t safeguard their weapons in vehicles nationwide.

Steinle died on July 1, 2015, in her father’s arms after being shot with a gun stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management officer. Less than three months later, artist Antonio Ramos was killed with a gun stolen from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. Both weapons were left unsecured in vehicles that the officers had parked in San Francisco.

Despite the devastating outcomes and high publicity surrounding the two killings, the Bay Area News Group’s investigation found officers continued to leave weapons unsecured in their vehicles. Four FBI guns have been stolen from vehicles in the Bay Area this year, including three in Benicia; Salinas police had three stolen from cars in a six-week period in April and May. And a San Jose police cadet resigned on the eve of becoming an officer after his gun was stolen from his car in late October while he was in a restaurant at Cupertino’s Vallco Shopping Mall.

The new law “is a great first step,” said Frank Pitre, a lawyer who represents the families of Steinle and Ramos. But he said he wants to see police agencies toughen the discipline they face administratively when they leave a weapon vulnerable.

“The discipline needs to have teeth,” he said. “A suspension, and, when appropriate, a termination. They have to make sure there are consequences.”

Hill said he sponsored the bill because police departments weren’t doing enough to deter thefts. Department policies ordering officers to safely store weapons ”didn’t work,” he said.

The new law will require officers to store weapons in their vehicles in a locked box. This news organization’s investigation found that between 2010 and June of this year, more than 90 weapons were stolen from parked vehicles when officers left them in backpacks and duffel bags or in glove boxes or shoved under seats. Sometime the cars were unlocked. Most thefts occurred from officers’ personal vehicles... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)