Seattle cops forget semi-automatic rifle sitting on patrol-car's trunk

A Seattle resident named Nick snapped the photo above in late June, passing it on to The Stranger, a weekly newspaper. It shows an empty police patrol car with an unattended semi-automatic rifle sitting on the trunk. A SPD spokesperson professes to being "very embarrassed" on behalf of the force.
"The department is very embarrassed that this happened," says Seattle Police Department Sergeant Sean Whitcomb. "We're incredibly grateful to the person that flagged down the bike officers and the woman who followed the patrol car driver around to let them know there was a rifle on the back of the car."

But were SPD officers driving around with an AR-15 rifle on the back of their squad car???? "I'm not going to comment," says Whitcomb, adding that the West Precinct has launched "an investigation into the circumstances that allowed this to happen."

Crime / City The Seattle Police Department Is "Very Embarrassed" After Leaving Unattended Semi-Automatic Rifle on Trunk of Patrol Car (Thanks, Marilyn!)


  1. Mistakes happen!
    Although that sounds to me like a good reason for not giving them rifles at all…

  2. This is a well-known phenomenon.

    Anything left on a car is immediately dis-remembered. Coffee cups, groceries, babies in carriers…it’s a memory sink. A study should be done.

  3. My personal rule is, if something (semiautomatic rifle, cup of coffee, camera, binoculars, or whatnot) must be put down on the outer surface of a car, the object is put on the HOOD of the car. Thing-on-car amnesia problem solved.

    Also, I’m pretty sure the police carry full-auto rifles. It’s the rest of us law-abiding citizens that are forced to make do with semiauto.

    1. That’s a good rule. As far as full vs. semi goes, full auto is usually reserved for SWAT and the like. Most departments that issue or allow patrol carbines only use semiautos.

    2. Very few officers have full-auto rifles. The only officers I know who do are SWAT members.

  4. As a soldier, I once left my rifle outside of a tank I was playing in.
    Yes, playing. 18 year old bored kid, all alone somewhere safe. One of the older guys ‘stole’ my rifle to teach me a lesson, and it worked. Never left it out of sight again.
    Honestly, ANYONE can forget something somewhere. Let’s be generous here.
    Now, a bullet in the chamber, that’s criminal. If there was a bullet in the chamber, fire that cop. Totally unsafe.

    1. “Now, a bullet in the chamber, that’s criminal. If there was a bullet in the chamber, fire that cop. Totally unsafe.”

      Yeah, I know if I was thinking about stealing a police issue assault rifle that was laying around in the open, I definitely wouldn’t bother if it didn’t have a round chambered.

  5. “an investigation into the circumstances that allowed this to happen.”

    It’s the usual lack of oversight. Cops and politicians seem to think there is no need to regulate, or even properly train, individuals who carry guns, batons, tazers, handcuffs, etc; and who are authorized to kill, maim or, apparently murder. Further, it seems reasonable to people in the judicial industry to give these authoritarians the benefit of the doubt when the lack of oversight and poor training result in misconduct or outright crimes.

    1. I know you’re probably joking, but the absolute last thing I would want anywhere near me would be a stolen police firearm.

  6. Hey, SPD needs to keep all their assault rifles out and ready in case they run into any deadly maniacs – such as a wood carver with a closed tiny swiss army knife….who could be in a threatening posture like the classic “slowly shuffling away” attack.

    SPD officers only have 4.1 seconds to shoot people they dislike, or they will be faced with ridicule in the locker room for being too slow.

  7. Oh come on, surely that has happened to all of us at some point or another. You put your automatic weapon down and just forget to pick it up again.

  8. I’m surprised the SPD spokesperson didn’t dismiss it a sting operation in progress with officers’ eyes on the weapon at all times.

  9. I move that the officer responsible be referred to as “Officer TactiCool” for the remainder of their career.

  10. I do not believe for a minute that was “merely” a semi-auto rifle, my guess is that they are LE, that is a select fire (semi-auto and Full-Auto) rifle, AKA a machine gun for NFA purposes.

    Will anything happen to the officer, I seriously doubt it, give it 2 maybe 3 months to blow over, then business as usual, until one of the cops draws down on another ( playing games like I see them do here in Chicago ) and shoots his partner.

    And yet LEO are more responsible, a common fallacy.

  11. PD using full auto is hit and miss. In many depts cops have to buy/carry their own personal rifle (which is BS IMHO)

  12. As a german i have to ask – Why does a cop has to have
    semi automatic rifle??? (or a rifle at all???)

    1. As a german i have to ask – Why does a cop has to have
      semi automatic rifle??? (or a rifle at all???)

      I don’t think they have to have them; but as to why they do, check out this:

      Wikipedia: 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out.

      (It’s also the inspiration for the running downtown LA gun battle in Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat.)

      That’s not the entire reason, of course – but it was a major, major influence. The news footage has been repeatedly viewed in just about every US police headquarters. Beat cops don’t want to be reduced to hiding behind block walls and desperately borrowing guns from a local gun shop.

        1. How did a shootout in 1998 influence a film made in 1995?

          Hmm. Good question. I shall have to hunt up the guy from the film crew who told me that, and ask him. :-)

          (Actually, the shootout was ’97, not ’98, but that doesn’t affect the question…)

          Maybe it was the other way around – the film inspired the shootout?

          I dunno. I was just repeating what I’d heard from someone I thought was a reliable first-hand source, so I didn’t check the dates.

          Sorry about that. Thanks for the correction.

    2. Supposedly because (depending on what state you’re talking about) the everyday citizens can have machine guns :P

      I have an uncle in Oregon who’s known among family members for hunting with an M16 set to 3-round burst.

    3. google “north hollywood shootout” to know why police officers sometimes need heavy weaponry. In that case 2 bank robbers with full auto AK 47’s plus full body armor robbed a bank. Police arrived with only 9mm handguns which did not penetrate the body armor. The SWAT team took some time to arrive and the police were reduced to going to a local gun store and borrowed m16 type rifles (semi auto I assume).

      The police were so embarassed at being forced to BORROW rifles from civilians and shocked that criminals had out-gunned them that rifles became common among american police

  13. As a Seattlite, I think the sickest part of this whole story is that there’s a Starbucks in the background of this photo. It would be complete only if it were raining and everyone was wearing flannel.

  14. Of course, if any citizen had done anything to secure the rifle they’d have probably been arrested and railroaded into some felony plea bargain.

  15. To the soldier and to free citizens of the Western Nations:

    Police are given a responsibility in our society that is not shared among many other than soldiers on rare occasions. Police have access to the government held monopoly on violence, that we as citizens have agreed to. We in a civil society have agreed to only allow people to have access to this tool that can be used on us in appropriate situations.

    As the gatekeepers to violence police have to show restraint (which if you read the news is not apparent) and responsibility (which if you the read the news is not apparent). This responsibility is also relevant to the tools of violence they are allowed to wield. This flagrant forgetfulness of an automatic weapon is an example of the triviality that the police approach their jobs with. They are not responsible, if they were, they would appreciate the responsibility given to them and they would’ve have invented PROCESSES to avoid any situation like this, as they wouldn’t want to make their employers angry (WE THE PEOPLE).

    Instead we get reckless behavior, the slaughter of innocents, the destruction of property, the disrespect of the citizen and the callousness demonstrated by this incident and some posters in this thread.

    My only constructive suggestion is to police the police using external bodies who can economically affect officers. Through economic means maybe we can get these people to respect their post and respect their bosses.

  16. That’s one ugly cop car. The graphics and the light bar make it look like a taxi cab.

  17. Hey, it’s like a first-person shooter level, where there’s always assault rifles laying around the city. The reality of the FPS suddenly overlapped with our world, like *Ubik* meets Duke Nukem Forever!

  18. Shows what a cool place Seattle is.

    If this were my city, it would have been stolen immediately and used in either a crime spree or a murder/suicide. There’s actually a pastor around here offering mall gift certificates to people in exchange for their stolen guns. He’s only had a handful of takers.

    I want to move to Seattle, but I’m underwater. I hate where I live.

  19. They have such nice weaponry. Does this not concern anyone more than leaving it laying around?

    1. I’m afraid that I have some very bad news on that front… Basically, surplussed military toys get handed out to law enforcement agencies for peanuts on the dollar. Perhaps the most colorful case was that of hickville Sheriff Leon Lott’s “Peacemaker” a mil-surplus M113A2 APC, complete with M2 Browning for dealing out .50BMG justice(wayback machine link, possibly because public reception of the “Peacemaker” was not all that it might have been…)

      (your browser will most likely throw an SSL error on the LESO page, it has a cert derived from the DoD root, which isn’t installed in most browsers, this is to be expected, just click through.)

    2. I dont understand why police officers need to be armed like an occupying army. Especially in a place with a fairly low crime rate like Seattle.

      1. While I agree in general there is too much ‘militarization’ of our police, the rifles are because of things like the Columbine shootings and the Hollywood Bank Robbery.

        For a campus shooter or a situation where a cop has time to prepare and pursue and clear rooms, rifles are more accurate and lethal.

        For the Hollywood bank robbery, the criminals had some homemade body armor that the PD 9mm couldn’t punch through.

        So situations like this is what lead to having a rifle in the car. I think having a rifle is fine. The abundance of SWAT teams does disturb me.

  20. Honestly, ANYONE can forget something somewhere. Let’s be generous here.

    Um, no. Not with firearms, or with the police. With the ability and authority to inflict deadly force comes serious responsibility.

    It will be a test of the integrity of the Seattle PD to see how they deal with this.

    1. So, I assume you would say the same thing to the parents who forget babies in their cars? They just weren’t “responsible” enough?

      I don’t care how responsible you are, sometimes your brain fails you.

      1. “So, I assume you would say the same thing to the parents who forget babies in their cars? They just weren’t “responsible” enough?”

        — if any harm comes to the baby, the parents are usually charged with neglect…

        You’re right, sometimes your brain does fail you, but, in these situations, it’s unacceptable, brain fart or not.

      2. “So, I assume you would say the same thing to the parents who forget babies in their cars? They just weren’t “responsible” enough?

        I don’t care how responsible you are, sometimes your brain fails you.”

        When babies are forgotten in their cars they generally end up DEAD.

  21. Why does a neighborhood peace officer need a semi-automatic rifle?

    Are we at war with ourselves?

    Answer: Yes.

    1. Palpable how it is perniciously perched on the precipice, perchance to plummet

      potentially puncturing the pavement, pedestrians or pneumatics.

      1. “Palpable how it is perniciously perched on the precipice, perchance to plummet

        potentially puncturing the pavement, pedestrians or pneumatics. ”


      2. “Palpable how it is perniciously perched on the precipice, perchance to plummet”

        “potentially puncturing the pavement, pedestrians or pneumatics.”

        Or possibly passersby perniciously pedaling pedicabs with passengers!

  22. I wonder if it was staged. Somebody had the rifle on them, waited for the police to leave their vehicle to get some donuts, put it on the truck, took the picture, instant shame!

    1. Does carrying an AR-15 around Seattle, placing it on a police car, and then flagging down some cops to tell them sound like remotely sensible behavior to you?

      If you have it legally, they’ll be able to show that it is yours without too much trouble(and that it isn’t theirs). If you don’t, or if its identifying marks are obliterated, the only thing that might keep you out of jail would be getting shot…

  23. They could have said it was a set up for a sting and the “good citizen” screwed the pooch and let a lifetime criminal get away.

    Case closed.

  24. One time back in the marine corps, I came across an unattended rifle. So I removed the bolt, tossed it into a porta-john toilet, returned the rifle to it’s owner, told him where he could find the bolt, and reminded him to take care of his things.
    He was actually grateful that was all I did.

  25. Probably they just didn’t have room for it, what with the trunk being crammed full of cocaine.

  26. Around here, it would have been stolen in a flash and already used. It takes work – hard work, dammit – to keep up your ranking as one of the US’s ten most dangerous cities.

    We do owe much of the credit to the NRA and the winning concept that the more guns in circulation (especially concealed), the lower the gun death rate. Total fail in reality but off-the-charts for firing up the Tea Party.

  27. Remember what Charlton Heston repeated after the Colombine tragedy ” The right to bear arms…” He forgot to finish “against a common enemy.”

    That’s you and me. The common enemy.

  28. The photographer should consider himself extremely fortunate that he didn’t get arrested for taking this photo.

  29. “The photographer should consider himself extremely fortunate that he didn’t get arrested for taking this photo.” For what? Exhibiting how professionally trained law enforcement officers make inexcusable mistakes? The thought that a photographer could get arrested for such, certainly makes the rest of us in the world wonder, is this the Enduring Freedom you intend on bringing to other Countries is it? That their own citizens can get arrested for taking photos of Cops making stupid mistakes, which put the public at risk? (I’m in Australia, so the concept of this happening in a free and democratic nation kind of surprises me.) Note, there is a perfectly good shoulder strap on that rifle. Any person who has been professionally trained to carry these weapons knows, if you absolutely have to take the weapon off your person, YOU NEVER LEAVE THE WEAPON OUT OF YOUR SIGHT, you certainly don’t put it on the trunk of a police car and wander off like it’s a cup of forgotten coffee. To shift the blame to the photographer, speaks volumes of the rights of citizens in the USA as perceived by the rest of us in the world. Basically, it seems that if you so much as question anything a cop does, you are going to get a smack down. For a country that fought for independance and freedom, and continues to shovel that line down countries of the world, don’t you find this a little ironic?

  30. Man – some people have all the luck. The only left on the police cars around here are our civil liberties ;o)

    Damn – that is a nice rifle. Lots of fun toys on it. I have to question why it was out in the first place. The only thing I can think of is he was on some sort of guard duty where he was carrying it. Otherwise they are usually locked up in the trunk or in the center of the front seats.

    One anon mentioned it might be select fire – and it might be. But a lot of PD still have just semi-auto, especially for non-SWAT. IIRC one has to have extra training to carry the rifle, and even more if it is full auto. So you have a liability issue, combined with the fact the semi-auto is cheaper and really all that is needed.

    At any rate, brain farts happen, but I do hope he is severely punished. (Demotion, suspension, no donuts for a year, etc.) Somethings are inexcusable for a “professional” to do.

  31. You can easily get a rifle and flash bang grenades and much more cop equipment MUCH EASIER than grabbing one off the top of a police cruiser.

    I’m going to get in trouble for this but it exposes a weakness in every crown vic the cops uses., See the taillight on the back between the tail light and the license plate? Just stick your fingers (if your good) or a crowbar in there and pry, the light POPs out, and you can reach in there and pull the cable for the trunk latch.

    This is an easy way to get access to all the good stuff in any copy or law enforcement vehicle.

    1. Ok.

      While I’m not 100% with you that it’s easier to use a crowbar on a trunk of a cruiser vs. picking something up in plain sight – I am 100% with you that we should get a drink.

    2. Why are you posting something like this on BoingBoing?

      See, that is the sort of practical, friendly, everyday tip you ought to be submitting to LifeHacker ;)

  32. Brain farts do happen, but they are inexcusable when it comes to firearms. That officer should have been trained correctly, in which case they would not have let that weapon leave their body unless it was secured somewhere. It is NOT a cup of coffee, and any cop treating it as such does deserve to be fired or at least drive a desk for a year or two.

  33. Shhhhh!!!!! Do not discuss our precious coffee, rain and flannel with outsiders. And certainly do not discuss our Free Firearms program.

  34. Oh, this is the least of it.

    A little while ago, a couple of local Carnation cops responded to a 911 hangup, but stopped and turned around because the gate was locked. Turns out there had been a murder in progress.

    A few years back, two Bellevue patrols started firing at each other- no one ever figured out who fired first, it took dispatch to clue them in that it was friendly fire.

    Before that it was the Tacoma police chief who shot and killed his wife and then himself.

    Before that it was a state trooper who picked some guy at random, killed him, and then framed him to cover up something he was up to.

    I don’t even think out local cops are any worse than any other part of the country, but that’s hardly good news.

  35. Well, better than forgetting tanks, loosing your ammunition while guarding a foreign embassy or loosing 700g explosives … yes, yes, the army is quite a fun :)
    (well, the thing with the tank is probably a urban legend)

  36. This gets back to a fundamental point I make over and over – many problem in our society would be solved by doing our best to construct a code of law that is universally applicable to every member of society, without exception – be they police, general, corporate chieftain, or politician.

    Police provide a basic and necessary service – protection of the roads, provision of justice.

    But why does providing this service make them immune to any sort of laws?

    As I see it, provision of police services should be a service like any other, a service like emptying your septic tank. Property owners would pay whatever firm they felt was best to provide the service.

    Then, police would no longer be an exalted caste, but just another group of service providers. If they injured someone, they would be fully responsible. If they shoot a homeless Indian woodcarver, the officer would be guilty at least of 2nd degree murder, no different from any other shooting.

    Look here: we can’t live without food, right? But we can live without police, at least more easily than without food. So, food production and distribution is relatively more important than police protection.

    Now, what if some guy in a cabbage truck runs over a little girl? Can he say ‘oh, my job is so important, i can’t be held responsible for that, the cabbages gotta be delivered, sorry but shit happens.’ No, he will be prosecuted, cabbages be damned.

    Police and courts should be the exact same way. They are individuals, working in society to provide a valuable service in exchange for pay and the social status of providing a valuable service.

    Why the hell should they receive immunity from even minor crimes as an added ‘perk’ that goes with the job??

    Police should no more be able to shoot or assault people without consequence than plumbers should.

    1. . Property owners would pay whatever firm they felt was best to provide the service.

      So, back to the days of the Pinkertons and the Baldwin-Felts Agency and Thomas Edison’s patent-enforcement thugs, eh?

      Because that worked so well.

      Then, police would no longer be an exalted caste, but just another group of service providers. If they injured someone, they would be fully responsible.

      Oh, but this time it would work differently, would it?


  37. Reminds me of this incident in London last year:

    A policeman left a Taser on the roof of his car when he drove away from a police station- it fell off and was lost. Note that in the UK only authorised firearms officers (the ones with the additional training to carry guns) are allowed to have Tasers, and even in London, which has a much greater percentage of these officers than any other police force in Great Britain (Northern Ireland is another matter), less than 10% of officers are so authorised. Being a firearms officer requires a great deal of testing and training and the certificate must be renewed every few months and can be revoked quite easily. I imagine this officer lost his…

  38. Property owners would pay whatever firm they felt was best to provide the service.

    So, back to the days of the Pinkertons and the Baldwin-Felts Agency and Thomas Edison’s patent-enforcement thugs, eh?

    I’m still working on the part where what the police do is protect “property owners,” not, y’know, people in general.

    1. What I wrote is unclear, because when I wrote ‘property,’ I meant a fairly broad interpretation of that word; we each have a property interest in our own bodies, which the police should be protecting along with other types of property.

      1. That is not a broad interpretation of ‘property’; it is an over-broad one, so over-broad, as to be in error.

        At a philosophic level, you are not sufficient distinguished from your self as to be capable of being in or of sustaining the relation of “the owner & the owned”.

        Contrast the situation of the master & the slave: they are easily separable. This is not so, for you and your body.

        At a legal level as well, as ‘property’ is only that which people, through the medium of the law, allow it to be: and the law has outlawed slavery, even the self-regarding variety.

        That is to say, that where I come from, the sale of human tissue – even your own – is against the law. It is not your “property”, to do with as you will.

  39. in my personal experience, i only leave weapons behind when i swap it for a different weapon, but my experience is limited to counterstrike.

  40. This happens in Grand Theft Auto IV all the time… especially when you plow a stolen car into a gaggle of law enforcement agents!

  41. Clearly this is a message to all the criminals in Seattle.

    “We have so much weaponry here in Seattle, we just leave it lying around.”

    “Go ahead. Pick it up. Maybe its loaded, maybe its not. Can’t remember, got so many guns lying around.”

    “What you got to ask yourself is: You feeling lucky punk?”

  42. “But why do the cops need guns like this?”

    Because of incidents like this:

    If the officers on the scene had access to firepower like this, 18 innocent people wouldn’t have been wounded, and thousands of dollars worth of damage would have never been inflicted.

    It’s some BS that this happened, don’t get me wrong. But when bad guys can get their hands on firepower and body armor on par with law enforcement, we need something to answer it.

  43. Oh, leave the cop alone, guys–he’s clearly just practicing for his job as a Left 4 Dead level designer!

  44. The AR-15/16 rifle was designed for use against lightly armored military targets at 547 yards.

    The average police rifle engagement happens at just 35 yards against an unarmored suspect.

    The average police sniper engagement distance is still just 71 yards against an unarmored suspect surrounded by civilians.

    There are numerous documented incidents of cops hitting innocent bystanders and even each other with these inappropriate weapons and their ricocheted shots.

    A much better choice is the Mossberg 590A1 shotgun. It’s what the military uses for a 45 yard engagement range. It has more control, more stopping power, more reliability and flexibility. Furthermore, civilians over 200 yards away would be pretty safe – unlike the AR-15.

    The truth is being a cop in the US is not even in the top 10 most dangerous jobs. Being a farmer or even a garbage collector has a higher death rate. Many police make it more dangerous than needs to be.

Comments are closed.