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2 Bay Area counties opt not to resell decommissioned police firearms

2 Bay Area counties forgo reselling decommissioned police firearms
2 Bay Area counties forgo reselling decommissioned police firearms 06:19

One way law enforcement works, "to protect and serve" is by getting guns out of the hands of criminals. But we've discovered each year, thousands of weapons once used by officers have been found at crime scenes.

CBS News partnered with nonprofit newsrooms The Trace and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting for this joint investigation.

We surveyed two hundred police agencies nationwide and found a majority sell their guns when they decide to upgrade their arsenal. What about our local law enforcement?  

Our team identified at least five agencies across the Bay Area that sell their weapons, while two agencies have chosen not to engage in this practice.           

For months, we at CBS News Bay Area and our colleagues at other CBS stations and the network have been investigating what seems to be common policy at law enforcement agencies across the country.

When officers' weapons reach their end-of-use date, many departments sell those old weapons to gun dealers in exchange for a discount or credit towards buying new weapons for their departments.

However, some of the gun dealers in the U.S. are known to be irresponsible, meaning guns sold to them can end up in the illegal gun market.

The problem is law enforcement agencies don't know which dealers are good and which are bad due to a federal law known as the Tiahrt Amendment which bars publicly disclosing most gun trace information.

Our investigation has revealed instances where old police guns have been found at crime scenes, prompting the question: Is it a good policy for police to sell their old weapons to dealers? 

In the Bay Area, we discovered that five agencies engage in this practice: The Alameda County Sheriff's Office, the San Francisco Police Department, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, and the Oakland Police Department. 

It's estimated those five agencies alone have sold over four thousand guns. That is something Josh Scharff with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says is concerning.

"So, when they are selling or transferring decommissioned firearms to gun dealers, they may not know that they are ultimately selling guns to gun dealers that supply the criminal market," said Scharff.

One way to eliminate this risk is to stop selling old guns to dealers entirely. Two departments here in the Bay are choosing that approach, the San Jose Police Department, and the San Francisco County Sheriff's Office.

We sat down with San Francisco County Sheriff Paul Miyamoto to discuss why his department is not selling its guns.

San Francisco County Sheriff Paul Miyamoto states that throughout his 28 years of service, it has always been the sheriff's office policy to destroy decommissioned service weapons.

"We want to avoid any vestiges that we have any involvement in what happens to a firearm after purchase with a third party," said Sheriff Miyamoto.

Unlike other departments that sell their old weapons to gun dealers, Sheriff Miyamoto says his agency only offers retiring officers the opportunity to buy their personal service weapon, all other weapons are sent out for destruction.

"We just choose not to do it that way so that we know we have full control of our firearms from the moment we purchase them, to the moment that they're distributed to our staff, to the moment that they're collected and stored, and then to the moment that they're destroyed," said Sheriff Miyamoto. 

The sheriff told us he knows many other departments choose to sell their weapons to dealers and he can see why.

"Because of the financial benefit of having that become a part of your overall budgeting or funding for other items or other material things," said Sheriff Miyamoto.

But for his office, the peace of mind that comes with destroying the weapons outweighs any financial incentive.

"There's always a challenge as to whether there's a need to fill that funding gap. I think the concept of selling back to a responsible FFL, Federal Firearms Licensee, is something we would hope would lead to responsible gun ownership when purchased by that third party. The unfortunate part is what we mentioned earlier in terms of gun safety itself which is a lot of different crimes have been committed by people that are irresponsible or have had their firearms stolen. And that's what we're challenged with, is trying to find that balance," said Sheriff Miyamoto.

The sheriff told us he understands why the policy of departments selling their old weapons can be controversial.

The number of guns on the streets in this country remains a significant issue. The sheriff emphasizes that the most important action any department can take is to ensure that every gun is owned by a responsible party.

"The ultimate goal is to make sure anybody who does possess a firearm legally does so responsibly and safely and I think that's part of the key to making sure that we get into a better place where there are fewer guns out there," said Sheriff Miyamoto.

His office is contributing to the solution by ensuring their weapons are destroyed rather than adding to the count. 

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