Peel Regional Police officers have lost a small arsenal of weapons in recent years and most are still missing.
Nearly 75 per cent of the weapons lost or stolen since 1994 — a list that includes two sniper rifles, pepper spray canisters, loaded ammunition clips and dozens of police batons — have never been recovered.
An investigative report in today's issue of The Toronto Star says the newspaper analyzed 45 police occurrence reports from 2005-10 in which a firearm, ammunition or use-of-force equipment was lost or stolen, and found officers lost their weapons in a variety of public places, including a Tim Hortons shop, a parking lot and a park.
There were at least five instances when the weapons disappeared inside a police facility.
There have been eight cases in the past two years when police wrote off the cases as "complete" and "solved," even though the weapons were never recovered.
Police officials say they have adopted stricter tracking and accountability measures since Chief Mike Metcalf was appointed in 2006. Yet, the number of officers losing their weapons has remained about steady.
"Losing that much equipment shows negligence and just a lack of caring. That seems to me to be the big problem," said John Sewell, a former Toronto mayor who heads the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.
Peel Sgt. Peter Brandwood said the force conducts regular audits on its firearms and equipment.
An equipment committee has also implemented "strict standards in the maintenance, storage and updating of equipment," he said.
Peel officials would not say what those standards are.
"The Peel Police Services Board, and, I can safely say, the Peel Regional Police, take the issue of every lost use-of-force option extremely seriously," said Emil Kolb, who has chaired the police board since 1996.
Officers can be disciplined if they lose their weapons through negligence or carelessness. Under the Police Services Act, officers may be required to pay for the missing equipment.
But it's unclear how often — if at all — punitive measures are used.
None of the 45 reports of missing or stolen police weapons from 2005-10 mentions disciplinary actions or restitutions. Peel police would not say whether any of the 45 officers were punished.
"Chief Metcalf has taken a strong and consistent approach to discipline during his tenure and has ensured that officers are held accountable for any misconduct in relation to firearms or issued equipment," Brandwood said. "Where the equipment is lost during the course of duties without any evidence of negligence, no disciplinary action would be taken."
In an analysis of the 45 cases from 2005-10, most officers lost weapons during their day-to-day patrols and duties.
In a third of the cases, the officers don't know how, or sometimes where, they lost the weapons.
Police reports show 22 per cent of the weapons were lost while the officer was chasing a suspect or making an arrest.
In September 2008, Cst. Greg Hope realized a gym bag containing his baton, badge, holster and other equipment was missing from his home. The bag had been thrown out while Hope's basement was being renovated. On the occurrence report, the lost equipment is valued at $0. There is no mention of any discipline.
While preparing for retirement in 2010, Cst. Philip McQuay informed his supervisor he lost his baton "sometime over the past 25 years."
"I got a feeling it's probably somewhere in my house. I just can't find it," a now retired McQuay said when reached at his Mississauga home.
He said he had been out of uniform for several years and stored the baton in a safe place at home. At some point, he forgot where that was.
"If I would have reported it a long time ago had I looked for it, they probably would have criticized, reported, put something on my record.
But because I'm retiring in a month's time, what good is a disciplinary action going to do?"
The case was ruled "solved." The baton is still missing.
"Closing cases on lost or stolen police weapons when you haven't recovered it seems bizarre, if not outright nonsensical, " said Edward Sapiano, a Toronto criminal lawyer and an outspoken critic of police and the justice system.
Police officials did not answer repeated questions on why eight cases were declared solved when the weapon was still missing.
In one incident, Sgt. John McDonald lost his expandable metal baton after leaving rifle training on Derry Rd. In his report, McDonald said the weapon likely fell out of his scabbard in a parking lot.
"My primary concern is these weapons falling into the hands of children or thugs," said Sapiano, who co-created a gun amnesty program to allow people to surrender firearms without having to be identified.
Peel police are careful never to call the missing batons, pepper spray or ammunition clips "weapons," preferring instead the term "equipment."
But the euphemism is deceptive, Sapiano charged. "To convert what is normally called a weapon in the courtroom to being called ‘equipment' is minimizing the consequences of its loss," he said.
"Those same police officers won't be calling it a tool or equipment in the courtroom when an 18-year-old is being tried for possessing it as a weapon."
In at least five cases, the weapons disappeared inside a police facility.
In October 2006, Cst. Matthew Osborne left his gun belt out inside 22 Division in Brampton before leaving for a week off work. When he returned, the belt - and the pepper spray, baton, and two 11-round magazines it carried - had been taken. The weapons were never recovered.
Officers Osborne, McDonald and Hope all declined to comment when contacted by The Star.
Meanwhile, two officers had their batons vanish from police storage while they were on leave - one on maternity, the other deployed in Afghanistan with the military.
It's rare a gun goes missing. But of the six guns that have been lost or stolen since 1998, four have never been recovered.
In 1999, veteran Peel Sgt. John Trainor was charged with stealing a sniper rifle from the force's training bureau.
He was suspended with pay and retired a short time later. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to two firearm-related charges and the theft charge was withdrawn. The rifle was never found.
More recently, a 2010 occurrence report shows an officer was mistakenly given two Smith & Wesson pistols, one of which is now missing. Police suspect the second gun was internally destroyed, although there are no records, according to the occurrence report.
In two cases where officers' handguns were lost and then later found, both officers were disciplined, Brandwood said. Any lost or stolen gun is investigated by Peel's internal affairs bureau.
Police officials would not say whether the same standard applies for missing batons, ammunition clips or pepper spray, the weapons police most commonly lose.