A glimpse from 2016 into a bucketful of confiscated guns in the Oklahoma City Police Department's property room. Credit: Michael Willmus / Oklahoma City
A series featuring public and private images that represent important issues in Oklahoma.
A series featuring public and private images that represent important issues in Oklahoma.

At the Oklahoma City Police Department, the guns keep pouring in, filling up the property room again and again.

The department is seeing increasing numbers of firearms confiscated at the scenes of arrests, investigations, traffic stops and disturbances.

That’s not because officers have been told to seize more guns or because there are more officers in the field dealing with citizens, said Capt. Paco Balderrama, spokesman for the Oklahoma City Police Department. It’s because there are more firearms in communities and in the hands of citizens who shouldn’t have them, he said.

“What we’re encountering is basically more guns on the streets, and also more illegal guns on the streets,” Balderrama said. “You’ve got people who are gang members, convicted felons and some people who have mental health issues having these guns.

“It used to be a rarity,” he said, referring to officers’ bringing in guns. “Now, on any given night, we’re recovering like seven guns.”

From 2011 to 2015, the number of firearms checked into the department’s property room, including handguns and long guns, has risen by 23 percent, to 1,894. Most of that increase occurred in the two most recent years. While the total number of firearms taken by the city’s officers slipped in 2015, the number of handguns recovered – the weapons used in most crimes – continued to increase.

Guns checked into the property room include those recovered in an investigation, an arrest, a domestic violence incident or found by citizens and turned into police. Some weapons are held temporarily and returned to their owners.

The number of guns recovered by the Tulsa Police Department over the same period was not available.

Mark Norman, spokesman for Tulsa police, said property room employees could not provide the data requested by Oklahoma Watch in early September, although they initially thought they could. “They said that was something they couldn’t do without going through all the property receipts,” Norman said.

In Oklahoma City, when a gun is booked into the property room, a search is run through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center to see if it was stolen or used in a crime. The department also may ask the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to run a trace of a gun’s sales or pawn history. Last year, the ATF ran 1,573 traces of firearms for Oklahoma law enforcement agencies; more than two-thirds were for handguns.

If the department can’t locate the owner, the firearm is destroyed. The guns are crushed or melted. “Neither option is extremely cheap,” Balderrama said.

Guns that are returned may involve domestic violence or other situations.

“We tell them, ‘You can come back and pick them up overnight. Just for tonight we’re going to take them and safe-keep them.’ And then typically people will cool off and come get their guns,” Balderrama said.

“There’s way too many guns out there,” he added. “Every year we recover more and more … I could probably find a gun easier than I can find a fishing pole.”

Reporter Clifton Adcock contributed to this story.

Support our publication

Every day we strive to produce journalism that matters — stories that strengthen accountability and transparency, provide value and resonate with readers like you.

This work is essential to a better-informed community and a healthy democracy. But it isn’t possible without your support.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.