Despite state and city laws requiring law enforcement to secure weapons left in vehicles, it is unclear today whether a San Mateo County sheriff’s sergeant who lost several firearms in a vehicle burglary in San Francisco on Friday could face any legal penalties.
The deputy, a member of an FBI task force, was driving an unmarked police car at the time of the burglary, which occurred just after 10 p.m. on Jones Street, according to police.
The sergeant had left the vehicle locked, but returned to find its window smashed, according to San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sal Zuno.
The stolen items included a shotgun, a rifle, ammunition, a Kevlar vest and an FBI jacket.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the state legislature both passed legislation last year to reduce the theft of weapons from vehicles, inspired in part by the 2015 fatal shooting of Kate Steinle on Pier 14.
Steinle was killed with a gun that had been stolen days earlier from the personal vehicle of an off-duty U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger, who left it unsecured in a backpack under the front seat. Her death is one of several in the Bay Area involving stolen law enforcement guns in recent years, and her family has sued the BLM over the gun’s loss.
The city ordinance, introduced by Supervisor David Campos and approved by the board in February of 2016, requires anyone who leaves a firearm in a vehicle in San Francisco to store it securely in a locked trunk or lockbox. Violations can be prosecuted as misdemeanors.
The state legislation, introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill and signed in 2016, requires everyone, including law enforcement officers, to securely lock handguns left in vehicles in the trunk or in a locked container out of view or in an locked container permanently affixed to the vehicle.
Violations are punishable as infractions, meaning police can issue a citation, with a potential fine of up to $1,000.
Both laws would have potentially applied to the BLM ranger, John Woychowski, whose gun was involved in the Steinle case, if they had been in effect at the time of the incident.
The state law would not apply to the San Mateo County sergeant, however, because it only covers handguns.
And the city law only applies to law enforcement officers from agencies outside of San Francisco if they are off-duty at the time of the theft.
Zuno Monday said he could not say for certain whether the sergeant was on duty at the time of the theft, but that he may have been in San Francisco to attend a meeting of the FBI task force. San Francisco police declined to comment on the officer’s duty status at the time of the theft or provide further information on the investigation.
Two San Francisco law enforcement officers have also been involved in recent gun thefts due to auto burglaries.
In August, a personal firearm stolen from a San Francisco police officer’s personal vehicle was used in the Aug. 15 fatal shooting of Abel Enrique Esquivel, Jr. during a robbery.
The gun had apparently been stolen from the officer’s vehicle several days earlier. The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association issued a statement saying the officer did not realize the weapon had been stolen until after the shooting occurred because there were no visible signs of a burglary.
Police at the time said an internal investigation was being conducted into the weapon’s theft, but have not released further information on the outcome.
In September, a San Francisco sheriff’s deputy had a gun stolen from the trunk of a rental car parked in Potrero Hill.
The deputy, who had been with the department less than a year and was still on probationary status, was fired. Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said that a preliminary investigation indicated he had violated department policies on weapon storage.
While the San Francisco ordinance on gun storage in vehicles does not apply to city officers as long as their departments have policies in place regarding the storage of weapons, the state law still potentially applies to both cases.
Police Monday declined to comment on whether citations were issued in either case.
Hill, D-San Mateo, said he was disappointed by the most recent firearm theft, which is the fourth such incident reported by law enforcement in California since August:
“You can’t legislate common sense. … What we’re seeing is actions that indicate that people aren’t getting the message, their officers are not getting the message that they have a responsibility to secure those weapons in a way that they can’t be stolen and then used in a crime.”
Hill also introduced Senate Bill 22 earlier this year, which would have required law enforcement agencies to inventory and track their weapons, but that legislation was held up in committee. He plans to pursue the bill again next year, and said it would help encourage a culture of responsibility and accountability among law enforcement agencies around storing and securing weapons.