*UPDATE (7:13 p.m.): Good news -- the weapon is semi-automatic. After publishing this post, Tempe police spokesman Steve Carbajal says he got word that the rifle is not automatic -- despite his telling us about an hour ago that the TPD would not be releasing any additional information about the weapon.
The Tempe Police Department currently is short one assault rifle (which may or may not be a fully operational machine gun -- the cops won't say. More on that below) after an officer's SWAT-issued AR-15 was stolen out of his car early Sunday morning.
Tempe Sergeant Steve Carbajal tells New Times the theft happened between 4:45 a.m. and 6:20 a.m. Sunday, when the officer -- whom the TPD is not yet identifying -- stopped at Arizona State University "to exercise" after his shift.
According to Carbajal, as the officer's car was parked in a parking lot on the campus, it was burglarized, and the weapon was stolen.
Carbajal says it's the department's policy that each officer must "properly care for assigned equipment."
It's unclear where in the officer's vehicle the weapon was located when it was stolen. However, Carbajal says the T.P.D. will be conducting an "administrative review" for any possible policy violations.
This isn't the first time a member of the Tempe Police Department's SWAT Team had a weapon stolen out of his car.
In August 2005, former SWAT Commander Thomas Long had his loaded, .45-caliber Glock pistol stolen when he left his unmarked police car running in the driveway of a female friend as he walked the woman and her daughter to the door -- a violation of Department policy. The thief not only stole the pistol, but the vehicle, several SWAT Team uniforms, and Long's police ID. The vehicle was found a few days later -- sans the gun, SWAT uniforms, and Long's ID.
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As for whether the missing weapon is fully automatic (a machine gun), Carbajal wouldn't answer the question, even after we told him that a fully functioning machine gun in the hands of a criminal is kind of an important detail the public might want to know about. He would only say "we are not releasing further details on the weapon."
However, a former law enforcement official familiar with how SWAT teams operate tells New Times there's a very good chance the Tempe Police Department has lost a very dangerous machine gun. He says it's not uncommon for AR-15s used by SWAT teams to be fully automatic, and that he knows for a fact that the TPD has fully automatic weapons in its arsenal. He also says Carbajal's refusal to say whether the weapon is a machine gun is a pretty good indication that it is.
So, Tempe residents, rest easy -- there's only a chance a SWAT Team machine gun is on the streets and in the hands of an alleged criminal.
If you have any information about the missing weapon, call Tempe police at 480-350-8311, or Silent Witness at 1-800-WITNESS.