Council Defeats Motion to Destroy Weapons Seized by Police : Culver City to Auction Off Confiscated Guns

Times Staff Writer

Culver City will go it alone as the only local government on the Westside to sell firearms that have been confiscated by police.

On Monday, the City Council defeated a motion by Councilman Paul Netzel that would have required the destruction of all weapons once they are no longer needed as evidence in criminal proceedings.

Arguing that firearms are "not an inherently evil device," Mayor Richard Alexander said there is no more reason to destroy the guns than there is to demolish automobiles or bicycles used in a crime. Some weapons should be saved simply because they are valuable as collectors' items, he said.

Until this year, Culver City had destroyed the firearms. But in April, the council--with Netzel's support--went along with Police Chief Ted Cooke's request to auction off the weapons. Last month, the city earned just under $6,000 for the sale of 63 handguns, rifles and shotguns at an auction in Modesto.

Although Councilman Paul Jacobs opposed the sale all along, he gained an ally this month when Netzel said that community opposition and further study of the issue convinced him that the city should get out of the gun-selling business.

"I was disappointed," said Netzel of the council's 3-2 vote against his motion. "I am convinced that we are quite the exception on this and feel that it would be appropriate to return to what had been our practice in previous years."

Indeed, other law enforcement agencies with Westside jurisdictions, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and police departments of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, routinely destroy weapons.

Sheriff's spokesman Sam Jones said his department destroys confiscated firearms to reduce the number of recycled weapons "which may go into the wrong hands." In Beverly Hills, Lt. Bill Hunt said, "I don't think we need the money that badly to put the guns out on the street."

But Al Cooper, a legislative advocate for the California Peace Officers Assn., said he expected more cities to begin auctioning confiscated weapons as city councils look for new sources of revenue.

"I think that you'll find that more are doing it now than five years ago because of the revenue gap," Cooper said.

State law gives local governments the choice of selling, destroying or keeping confiscated weapons for official use. Neither the California League of Cities nor the state attorney general's office could immediately say how many cities in the state sell firearms.

Culver City police Lt. Jerry Dalven said sales of confiscated weapons are carried out by an experienced auctioneer. All sales are videotaped, and the buyers--mostly gun dealers--must carry federal firearms licenses, Dalven said. Most of the guns are resold in retail outlets. To prevent conflicts of interest, the auctioneer refuses to sell weapons originating in a particular city to any police officer of that city, Dalven said.

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