Theft of police chief's gun raises questions

Several questions remained unanswered yesterday regarding the theft of Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske's gun from his parked car Dec. 26 — including why the chief was not carrying the weapon.

With few exceptions, Seattle police officers are required to carry a gun at all times within the city limits. Officers sometimes will not carry a gun if it is impractical or inappropriate to do so during their free time, such as if they are at the gym, playing in a soccer game or drinking alcohol, police officials said.

The stolen pistol, a 9-mm Glock semiautomatic, is Kerlikowske's personal weapon, which he carries when off duty, not the gun issued by the department. Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb said he did not know whether Kerlikowske was carrying another gun at the time of the theft or what the chief was doing while his car was parked downtown.

Whitcomb said he also did not know:

• How the chief secured the gun in the vehicle, except to say he had not left it in plain view.

• How the car was broken into, except to say the car was locked.

• Whether the chief had secured the pistol with a trigger lock or other safety device, although Whitcomb said he assumes the gun was loaded.

Whitcomb said Kerlikowske was out of town yesterday and would not page him to provide more details. Reached at home, Kerlikowske's wife, Anna Laszlo, said her husband was on his way home from a business trip and unavailable to comment. The chief was expected back at work today, she said.

Kerlikowske's gun was stolen from his work vehicle, an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, while it was parked near Sixth Avenue and Olive Way between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Nothing else was stolen from the car, Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb said Dec. 26 was the chief's day off.

Kerlikowske reported the theft last week, but it did not become public until Monday night, after a TV station pursued a news tip.

"This is certainly something people have an interest in, but it's not exactly information that would be a benefit for us to release on our own," Whitcomb said. "It's an unfortunate incident, but we'd like to remind everyone that even the chief of police is not immune to these types of crimes."

As of yesterday, Mayor Greg Nickels had not talked to Kerlikowske, having learned of the theft only a couple of days ago, said Marianne Bichsel, Nickels' spokeswoman.

"The mayor is going to have an opportunity to talk to the police chief and see if there are any issues," she said. "The presumption is that there are not any issues."

Whitcomb said the Seattle Police Department has no specific policy related to storing a gun in a vehicle. State law prohibits gun owners from keeping loaded handguns in plain sight in their vehicles.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a pro-gun group in Bellevue, is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thief and for the weapon's recovery.

"It's embarrassing for the chief," said Joe Waldron, committee president. "I am in the gun business, and if somebody broke into my car, it would be personally and professionally embarrassing for me, too."

He said the reward is being offered in part to point out that gun theft can happen to anyone.

"As a general rule, we don't like people to leave guns in vehicles," Waldron said. If storing a gun in a vehicle is necessary, "we recommend locking it in a glove compartment or in the console between the seats. We also recommend that the firearm be unloaded and the ammunition be emptied, but we realize that is inconvenient and unlikely to happen."

The important thing is not calling attention to the act of storing a gun in a vehicle. Locking it in a trunk is usually conspicuous and therefore not a good option, Waldron said.

The Seattle Times reported in July 2001 that between 1996 and 2000, 15 Seattle Police Department guns were stolen from either cars or homes. More recent figures are not immediately available, Whitcomb said.

Sgt. Kevin Haistings, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, said he knows of no situation where an officer has been disciplined or investigated for having a gun stolen.

"We can be victims of crime like anyone else," he said. "I'm glad it didn't happen to me."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or