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Gun discounts for LAPD unit may have violated ethics rules

Los Angeles police officers in a unit that evaluated Smith & Wesson handguns for a new department contract used their relationship with the gun company to privately purchase discounted pistols for members of the unit, a possible violation of city ethics rules, according to a report made public Friday.

The officers bought about $27,000 worth of discounted guns and magazines last year shortly after Smith & Wesson pistols became the LAPD's standard-issued duty weapon, according to the investigation by Inspector General Alex Bustamante.

The Firearms and Tactics Section officers cut the deal with the gun company at a Las Vegas gun show even though Smith & Wesson had previously refused another request on behalf of the department for a similar discount for all LAPD officers who might want to privately purchase pistols, the report said.

The deal allowed the unit's officers to make a “one-time, bulk purchase” of guns and magazines at a discounted price. Forty-two officers ended up buying 67 guns, Bustamante found, pooling their money into a single cashier's check sent to Smith & Wesson.

Although the unit's officers were allowed to purchase various pistol models and calibers, the report found that the average discount for Smith & Wesson M&P 9-millimeter handguns was about $125 to $130 off the already reduced price of $455 usually offered to law enforcement officers.

City ethics rules prohibit city employees from trying “to create or attempt to create a private advantage or disadvantage, financial or otherwise, for any person,” Bustamante's report said.

In addition, employees who are required to file statements of economic interest are not allowed to solicit gifts or accept gifts of more than $100 from a “restricted source” —someone who has sought or signed a contract with the city employee's agency. City ethics rules also prohibit “restricted sources” from offering or giving those employees gifts of more than $100.

Bustamante's report said eight of the officers who privately purchased the weapons using the discount were required to file statements of economic interest. The report did not name any of the officers.

The Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, is scheduled to discuss the report at its meeting Tuesday and determine whether further action should be taken.

The Firearms and Tactics Section tested and evaluated different pistols for the LAPD before the Smith & Wesson M&P was approved as the department's standard-issue duty weapon, replacing pistols manufactured by Glock.

LAPD officials told the inspector general that the private purchase orders were necessary for the section's officers because the department's new Smith & Wesson pistols were issued to recruits but not firearms instructors, the report said. Among the section's responsibilities is providing firearms training to officers.

But Bustamante said recruits were issued only M&P 9-millimeter handguns, while the Firearms and Tactics Section officers were also allowed to purchase other pistol models and calibers using the discount.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, declined to comment on the report.

“The department only recently received a copy of the report and we are in the process of reviewing it,” he said. “We will discuss it with the Police Commission.”

The commission's vice president, Steve Soboroff, said he wanted to know why the officers requested and obtained the discounted guns and whether ethical and department rules were broken. He said it is possible that the officers did not know what the rules were.

Soboroff said he hoped any problems could be “solved in a positive manner.”

A spokeswoman for Smith & Wesson could not be reached for comment.

The inspector general's findings were part of an investigation into the way the new pistols were tested and evaluated. Bustamante's report said the LAPD's Policy and Procedures Division should have coordinated and supervised the evaluation of the weapons the department could have chosen but was instead left out of the process.

Instead, the Firearms and Tactics Section officers tested three types of pistols in 2011: the Glock Gen 4, the Springfield Armory XD-M and the Smith & Wesson. The department initially recommended the Smith & Wesson, saying it “outperformed the competition in almost every single category,” according to Bustamante's report.

Officials told L.A.'s General Services Department — which makes purchases on behalf of city agencies — there was no need for a competitive bidding process because the Smith & Wesson pistol was a “sole source” exception, meaning it was the only product that met the LAPD's specifications.

Smith & Wesson signed a contract with the city, Bustamante wrote, but it was never executed. The General Services Department determined the Smith & Wesson pistol did not qualify as a “sole source” option because Glock was another viable choice.

In 2012, officers with the Firearms and Tactics Section met with Glock representatives, Bustamante found. Glock offered the LAPD some perks should the department continue its contract, including an enhanced maintenance package and warranty.

Officers then recommended that the Glock gun be used by the LAPD, according to the report. The LAPD told the General Services Department that it now considered Glock pistols the best option and again pitched the guns as a “sole source” option.

The city again rejected the idea of a “sole source” contract. The General Services Department ultimately decided the Glock warranty didn't meet the department's needs. The contract went to a Smith & Wesson dealer in October 2013.

Three months later, the Firearms and Tactics Section officers negotiated their discount deal with Smith & Wesson at the Las Vegas gun show.

The inspector general's report said the “deviations” that occurred during the process — in which department personnel did not follow appropriate channels for evaluating and selecting the guns — “were not unique to the procurement of the Smith & Wesson pistol and had similarly occurred with several other equipment items.”

Bustamante outlined a series of recommendations, including making sure employees who evaluate products for the LAPD understand the city's ethics rules and implementing better oversight of how equipment is evaluated before it is purchased.

For more LAPD news, follow @katemather.

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