The Investigators

May 6, 2014 12:33 AM by Tom McNamara and Michel Marizco

N4T Investigators: Police, rescue personnel, losing equipment

TUCSON - A review of law enforcement and rescue personnel records by the News 4 Tucson Investigators reveals dozens of missing police badges and security keys, lost or stolen from public employees since 2012. Officials have some answers but overall, do not know how the missing gear disappeared.

The review shows that some missing law enforcement gear has turned up in federal drug trafficking cases in Tucson. Those include a recent case prosecuted here last winter where a U.S. Border Patrol uniform patch, an Arizona Department of Public Safety badge and a T-shirt emblazoned with "federal agent" were found in a marijuana stash house off Sixth Avenue.

Last summer, the Marana Police Department arrested a man dressed as a Tucson Fire Department employee at the funeral of William Warneke, one of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters who perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Marana Police Sgt. Chris Warren read through details of the report. "A Tucson Fire Department badge. He also had a Wickenburg Fire Department badge. He also had a TFD fire helmet, a TFD traffic vest, and a Flagstaff Fire Department baseball cap as well."

The biggest case of lost equipment reviewed by the News 4 Tucson Investigators was a single shipment of 100 police badges by the Tucson Police Department. The shipment disappeared from a supply room. Tucson police say they believe the badges were accidentally recycled.

"It turns out that the box of badges was right next to the recycling box and likely went with the recycling box to the recycler where the product was then recycled," said Asst. Chief John Leavitt.

An internal investigation never turned up the missing badges and police say none of those badges have turned-up on the streets or for sale on the internet since then. The employee who lost the badges was suspended for a week.

"In setting it down on a desk, is, you know it was a mistake, it was a mistake. But it was not an egregious one," Leavitt said.

Although those badges are presumed destroyed, the review of various agency documents shows other items that are missing: whereabouts unknown.

The lost equipment includes: 102 badges, and 16 keys and key cards lost by Tucson Police Department employees. Three radios and two workbags lost or reported stolen by Tucson Fire Department employees and two tasers reported lost by Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies.

Tucson Police Officers' Association president Willliam Bonanno said losses like these happen frequently across all sects of military and law enforcement agencies.

"We've seen it across the board. Not only law enforcement but military. We've had federal law agencies that had things go missing. It's always a concern, for all of us," he said.

Warren suggests that if you ever doubt the validity of an official's badge, to always ask for an identification.

"A police officer should be carrying a photo identification card with their name, their picture, their rank and the department that they work for with them at all times," Warren said.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line, (520) 955-4444.

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