Attorney: California cops broke law when leaving guns unlocked in car

Adding insult to injury, it turns out a group of California police officers that had guns stolen from their car were also in violation of the law, a top prosecutor said Thursday.

The five Taft police officers had gone to help out the University of California, Berkeley Police Department with a free-speech rally last weekend and then stopped for lunch on their way back home, KBAK reported. As the officers were busy eating, a backpack containing two handguns was stolen from their unmarked vehicle.

While the theft was obviously a crime, Kern County Assistant District Attorney Scott Speilman said the officers also broke California state law by not securing their handguns in a locked container when they left them in the vehicle. However, the punishment for that violation would be fairly light, Speilman noted.

“You could potentially face an infraction,” he said. “It is much like a traffic ticket, in that … it is less than a misdemeanor, but it is an infraction that can cost some money.”

Taft Police Chief Ed Whiting agreed in an email that the officers had violated the law but argued there was not enough space in their vehicle to properly store the handguns. Whiting’s email read as follows:

…there is mitigating circumstances. All of the newer Taft PD vehicles have lockable trunk vaults, as did this one. But they are designed for one(1) officers amount of gear. As you know we sent (5) officers to assist with the Free Speech Event in Berkeley CA. We would not send (5) vehicles with (5) officers and so the vehicle in question was carrying (3) Officers with all of their gear for what was a planned (4) day event. This means not all of the gear could be locked away in the trunk vault. And let’s remember, our officer is a victim too. He lost property from this crime as did the city.

Whiting also noted that this was the first time the Taft Police Department had lost a firearm in his 32 years with the organization and said that he takes the issue very seriously.

The incident went down in Alameda County, and so is outside of Kern County’s jurisdiction, Speilman said.