Columbus Police look to change weapons policy after officer’s assault rifle stolen from car
COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Columbus Police and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department continue to investigate after someone stole an assault rifle, handgun, two bullet-proof vests and 500 rounds of ammunition from an unmarked CPD car.
Police Chief Fred Shelton says that so far, there is no evidence that suspects targeted this officer but adds that it is still early in the investigation. They have not released any suspect information but the chief says they are tracking down some promising leads.
But with so much national attention on gun violence, he wants to take significant steps toward making sure these kinds of thefts do not happen again.
“With all these mass shootings that’ve been happening over the past couple of weeks, I’m deeply concerned as a law enforcement officer,” Chief Shelton says. “We have these weapons out there and they potentially could be used against us.”
CPD says the officer woke up Monday morning to find that someone broke into his car, which was parked outside his home near Willowbrook Road and 5th Street North.
“We don’t have a set policy on how to store our weapons, but it’s reasonable to have these types of weapons stored in the trunk of a police vehicle,” Chief Shelton says.
The officer’s trunk had been forced open and his weapons and equipment were gone. Chief Shelton says the officer is part of CPD’s Special Reaction Team, which is why he had the guns with him at home.
“He’s (also) a firearm instructor, so that’s why he would’ve had that large amount of ammunition in his vehicle,” the police chief added.
While he says it is pure speculation, Chief Shelton says there is usually only one reason someone would need a bullet-proof vest.
“If a person puts on a ballistic vest, they’re geared up to try to protect themselves if they got into a violent confrontation,” he says.
Long-time Columbus resident Paul Mack was dismayed to hear about the stolen assault rifle in particular.
“It’s not like those weapons aren’t out in the community already,” he says. “Now there’s one more.”
While he admits that he has no law enforcement background, Mack says he has questions about police officers leaving their service weapons in their cars.
“Especially considering what we’ve witnessed in the news lately, it’s interesting that you would leave an assault weapon locked up in a car at your residence,” he says. “I don’t know what the alternative is, given what the officer was assigned to do.”
Chief Shelton says he has already reached out to the Starkville Police Department regarding their weapons policy.
“We’re going to look at better ways we can secure our weapons in our vehicles,” he says. “Because we have to have these types of weapons in the environment that we’re in.”
Chief Shelton says they are listing the guns on the National Crime Information Center in the event that they are used in a different crime.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to…find these weapons before they have the opportunity to hurt us or hurt someone else,” he says.
Anyone with information should call Golden Triangle Crime Stoppers: 1-800-530-7151.