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Editorial: Policy needs review after theft of weapon from car

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A thief broke into Johnson County Coroner Craig Lutz’s vehicle last month and stole his badge, county-provided radio, personal laptop that he used for work such as investigating current cases and a handgun.

This was a lapse that never should have happened. A personal vehicle parked outside should not be considered secure storage. It also raised questions about policies on storing such equipment.

Local policies require police and firefighters with take-home vehicles to make sure the doors stay locked at all times, guns are secured in safes or locking racks, and other gear, such as radios or flashlights, is either locked away or brought in the house. But policies differ on exactly what can stay in the vehicle and what has to be taken inside.

The coroner’s office doesn’t have a specific policy on whether equipment can be left in a vehicle, and Lutz said it’s up to him and his deputies to make that decision. He said he usually left his equipment in his personal car, which is marked with a coroner’s office emblem, so he doesn’t forget anything when he goes out on a call, but he now plans to take more of it inside.

The rules are meant to balance keeping equipment safe from being stolen but also making sure an officer has what is needed when responding to an emergency.

After having his car broken into, Lutz said he will put his car in a garage and likely will take more of his equipment inside at night, he said. But that will mean when he is called out to a fatal accident, it will take more time to get ready to leave.

The difference in time would not seem to be substantial when compared with the risk of leaving the equipment in a potentially risky situation. Security should be a primary concern — and not just the security of weapons but also the security of possibly personal information stored in a laptop or computer tablet.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office policy in this area is clear. Deputies are required to remove all firearms from their vehicles when not in use. Prince’s Lakes police officers also are required to remove any firearms from the vehicles when off-duty and store them inside the police station or their homes.

This should be the standard procedure for all government departments and should extend to personal weapons, as well.

In addition, once a weapon is taken into the home, any guns should be locked and safely stored away from children or other people.

Most police cars are equipped with car alarms, so anyone trying to open a door or break into a truck would alert an officer in the house.

That should also discourage thieves, because that person should know that if a police officer comes out of the house, he or she will likely be armed.

Sheriff Doug Cox said he used to leave his car parked outside his house to deter crime in the neighborhood. But now he parks it in the garage every night because he feels criminals have become more desperate or bold and might consider trying to break into a police vehicle.

“Back in the day a police officer never worried about his car being broken into,” Cox said.

We agree that times have changed, and policies need to change with them.

We encourage all departments to review policies to make sure all equipment, especially firearms, and all data-storing devices are protected against possible theft and misuse.

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