Jim Stevens stepped back out of the gun locker in the evidence room of the Apache Junction Police Department. It was nearly empty. “When I came in here, it was loaded as high as the lights,” he said, pointing to the ceiling. The spotless gun locker was the result of a monumental effort, Stevens said.
He began working in May as an evidence consultant, under a one-year contract with the police department.
Apache Junction Police Chief Glenn Walp directed him to clear out hundreds of weapons that had piled up since the 1980s. Walp later had the guns destroyed without telling the City Council, touching off a heated debate among residents and city leaders about the need for a policy to regulate the disposal of police evidence.
A local gun dealer and a former evidence custodian have criticized Walp’s move, arguing that the guns might have been auctioned to raise money for the city and that destroying the evidence without running an official public notification could have compromised ongoing cases.
Jeff Serdy, a local gun dealer, said the 1,261 firearms were worth at least $157,000.
Instead, the city coffers took a small hit. In August, the police department paid $1,250 to Phelps Dodge to smelt more than two tons of weapons.
Stevens is an 8-year veteran of the Bullhead City Police Department, and worked there while Walp was that city’s police chief. Stevens said he came out of retirement at Walp’s personal invitation.
Stevens said he favors the procedures Walp has adopted which were similar to those in Bullhead City
Although Stevens said he doesn’t believe the weapons were as valuable as Serdy indi cated, he added that he’s not an expert in gun appraisals.
Karen Gwaltney, a former evidence custodian at the Apache Junction Police Department, said the guns were destroyed without fol lowing proper procedures She said these procedures include running ads in local newspapers to alert the public and other police agencies in the area about the pending destruction.
But Stevens said he spent six months calling police agencies throughout the Valley to ensure he wouldn’t destroy evidence in ongoing cases. He said it wouldn’t have become such a big controversy if the police department had routinely purged guns from storage.
“If the guns had been han dled the way we should have we would have (had) the gun room looking the way it should,” he said.
Apache Junction Vice Mayor R.E. Eck said earlier this month that the City Coun cil wasn’t alerted before the guns were smelted.
“I was totally oblivious to the whole thing,” he said. “ never heard about any disposal of guns until after they were destroyed.”
Joel Stern, Apache Junction city attorney, said there was no policy in place that would have required Walp to notify the City Council.
The Council directed staff last week to draft a policy to regulate the purging of guns from police custody. A decision is expected next month.
“Naturally, the City Council is the boss,” Stevens said. “If they say ‘This is the law,’ they get their law.”