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‘There Has to be More Going on Here’: Seven D.C. Police Officers Placed on Leave or Desk Duty for Confiscating Guns from Suspects Without Arresting Them

In the wake of the nation’s capital celebrating how effective law enforcement has been at removing illegal guns off the streets of D.C., seven police officers from the Seventh District have been removed from their duties in the Metropolitan Police Department. An internal review discovered they seized guns from suspects without issuing an arrest or a warrant, violating department policy on firearm seizure.

On Friday, Sept. 30, Chief Robert J. Contee III announced that he placed officers from the specialized crime-suppression team, some of whom were sergeants, on administrative leave or desk duty due to their alleged misconduct while on patrol, the DCist reports.

Dustin Sternbeck, the Metro Police police spokesman, said, “The first two officers were placed on paid administrative leave; the other five were put on desk duty.”

It is alleged the officers stopped multiple citizens and took their guns, recording the street weapons but not the names of the people who had them.

“That’s just not the way that we conduct business here in the D.C. police,” Contee said, according to The Washington Post. “They should have been placed under arrest, or, at a minimum, we could have initiated an arrest warrant.”

Chief Contee said in a press conference, “We have a responsibility to make the community safer and that includes taking bad guys to jail. That does not make the community safer when we allow people in some instances, potentially armed felons, to go on about their business and just recover the firearm.”

“It’s only a short amount of time before they are in possession of another firearm and I’m sure of that,” he continued.

The chief said the investigation into the officer’s alleged misconduct started on Sunday, Sept. 11, after a community member filed an unrelated complaint against the department. The more officials researched the details of the complaint, investigators found a separate incident where a suspect’s illegal firearm was confiscated by the person not arrested, according to FOX 5 D.C.

The department reviewed three months of bodycam footage from officers who patrolled Anacostia, Barry Farm, Naylor Gardens, and Washington Highlands, four of the seven neighborhoods that make up the Seventh District, and discovered the case reports about the gun retrievals were not consistent with the actual footage of the seizures.

“The firearms were reported. They were turned in to evidence. They were accounted for. The suspects are the ones unaccounted for,” Contee explained. “The suspects were allowed to go free and they should have been placed under arrest or at the minimum an arrest warrant.”

The war on crime has been paramount to the MPD over the last decade. The unit, where seven officers served, has been heralded for their work at cleaning up the streets and sweeping dirty guns out of the community. While the investigation into the gun scandal continues, other members of that unit have been temporarily reassigned.

The work of this street unit has been presented as data to show the city’s work to reduce violent crime. On a weekly basis, the city releases numbers showing the firearms retrieved in the last seven days, with the most recent report (Sept. 19-26) showing 53 illegal firearms picked up by law enforcement.

In September, police reported the MPD had seized more than 2,000 illegal guns this year, almost 800 more than the amounts seized around the same time in 2021.

Contee refused to connect the reports to the officers’ actions, stating that an investigation is still going on.

“I want to reassure all members of our community that we are coordinating with the United States Attorney’s Office and additional partners to ensure that this investigation is done completely, expeditiously, and thoroughly and in a way to maintain community trust,” he said.

MPD union officers are baffled at the department’s action against their members, saying the officers were doing what they were told to do last year by higher-ranking brass.

“This is exactly what [Contee] and MPD supervisors told the officers to do — get the guns off the street and obtain direct evidence linking the gun to the person,” Gregg Pemberton, chairman of the D.C. Police Union, said Saturday, Oct. 1. “There has to be more going on here. The officers seem to have been following orders.”

According to the union, officers were told to seize the weapons first, and an analyst would then extract forensic evidence from the firearm and tie it to the person it once belonged to. This process was to be especially followed if the gun was in a bag, backpack, or vehicle, or stopped on the street and it was determined the gun did not belong to the person who had possession at the time of the seizure.

Getting this type of DNA or fingerprint evidence was said to be crucial for prosecutors, who worked with the MPD to secure warrants and convictions.

The MPD has not released any of the names of the officers connected to the scandal.

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