Watch CBS News

Colorado police agencies trade, sell their used guns while some end up at crime scenes

Police agencies trade, sell used guns while some end up at crime scenes
Police agencies trade, sell used guns while some end up at crime scenes 04:32

Guns once used by Colorado police agencies but later traded or sold have turned up at crime scenes multiple times since 2014, according to reporting by CBS News and CBS News Colorado.

Nationwide, between 2006 and 2022, more than 52,000 firearms that once belonged to police agencies across the country were recovered at crime scenes, highlighting the perils of law enforcement agencies offloading their used weapons.

It has been a common practice in Colorado for years and continues to be, with police agencies around the state frequently selling or trading in their used-duty weapons.


"We are trading our old weapons for new firearms so we can be fiscally responsible and not be costing the taxpayers money," said Adams County Sheriff Gene Claps. "We trade them in because they're worth a value and it saves the taxpayer money, it saves us money in our budgeting."

The Colorado State Patrol said it traded in 850 Smith & Wesson handguns last year, receiving about $100,000 in credit that the agency then used toward the purchase of about 1,000 new handguns that were lighter, more accurate, and more technologically advanced than the older models. Virtually all of the older pistols were ultimately purchased by CSP employees, according to Lt. Col. Barry Bratt.

"There's a risk those weapons could be put back out into circulation," Bratt said. "But the alternative is we destroy them, in which case you'd be sitting here asking me why we destroyed $100,000 of usable state property. It's being fiscally responsible."

However, Colorado state Sen. Tom Sullivan believes it's time to curtail the longstanding practice of putting used law enforcement firearms back into circulation, saying the profit isn't worth the risk.

"The nominal amount of money that you're going to get trading it or reselling it, if it gets used in a crime, we know what that cost is, and it's exponentially higher than the benefit local law enforcement is going to get from selling it," Sullivan said.

Sullivan's son, Alex, was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012 while celebrating his 27th birthday.

"The weapons being traded and sold by Colorado law enforcement agencies could end up at the scene of a crime; it's as simple as that," Sullivan said. "So let's take that out of the equation. Let's make sure that things that have been used to deter crime don't end up being used against us in a crime."


In Colorado, some of the agencies selling or trading in their guns are:

  • Adams County Sheriff
  • Arapahoe County Sheriff
  • Aurora Police Department
  • Boulder County Sheriff
  • Colorado State Patrol
  • Colorado Springs Police

Law enforcement agencies contacted by CBS News Colorado said they followed all applicable laws and that weapons they sold or traded only went to federally licensed firearms dealers.

Nationally, 52,529 guns once owned by law enforcement agencies turned up at crime scenes between 2006 and 2022, according to data obtained from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That's an average of 3,246 times each year that a gun once used to protect the public was used in the commission of a crime. Nonprofit newsrooms The Trace and Reveal sued the federal government to get those numbers.

According to CBS News data, in Colorado, the following law enforcement agencies had guns that were later found at crime scenes between 2013 and 2017:

  • Montezuma County Sheriff's Office, two guns in 2014
  • El Paso County Sheriff's Office, one gun in 2014
  • University of Colorado Police Department, one gun in 2017
  • Boulder Police Department, one gun in 2017
  • Craig Police Department, one gun in 2016

Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson said his agency has also been trading in its old firearms for new weapons.

"Those guns were purchased with taxpayer money," Johnson said. "And being good stewards of taxpayer money, we want to get credit back on them if they have value."

Johnson said he was unaware that tens of thousands of law enforcement weapons had turned up at crime scenes.

"I wasn't aware of that statistic of 52,000, no," Johnson said. "That's uncomfortable to hear. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention because we do want to make sure we are doing what's in the best interest of the public and our organization and making sure that we are mindful of where equipment we used to own could end up in the wrong hands."

Asked if his agency might change direction and destroy its old weapons, Johnson said, "I think that's something we can consider."

Some agencies, like the Seattle Police Department, are already doing that. Seattle PD stopped trading in its old weapons around 2016.


"Part of that is because there are so many guns on the street," Chief Adrian Diaz said. "So if we're selling them out, we just don't know where those guns could be."

But other agencies, like CSP, are not inclined to alter their policy of trading and selling their used duty weapons.

"We feel it's the right thing to do and we stand behind that," Bratt said. "We don't do this without thinking about it. We have gone through this and thought about it and we're comfortable with the position we take on this. We don't want any weapon that law enforcement carries to ever be at a crime scene, but it's a risk—it could happen."

Sullivan, the state senator, contends this is a public policy issue that needs further examination.

"I mean times have changed," Sullivan said. "What we were able to do ten years ago we can't do anymore. We need to talk about it, we need to be aware of what the implications are of the things we do."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.