What happens to weapons seized by police?

What happens to weapons seized by police? (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Increasingly, guns are being confiscated from criminals in the Tri-State.

In Ohio, most of the guns are destroyed, but things are different in Kentucky. Nearly every criminal weapon seized in the Commonwealth must be sold at auction.

Local 12's Duane Pohlman traveled to that auction and spent months investigating Kentucky’s lucrative trade centered on "selling criminal weapons."


On the streets of the Tri-State, weapons rule.

From hand guns, to high-powered rifles, police say they're facing ever-increasing firepower.

But when criminals are caught, their weapons are confiscated.

So, what happens to those weapons after they're seized?

The answer to that depends on which side of the river you're on.

In Ohio, most of the guns confiscated from a criminal are destroyed, but over in Kentucky, every gun that's seized must, by law, be sold. That includes guns used in violent crimes, even murder weapons are up for sale.

At the Confiscated Weapons Sale at the Kentucky State Police Supply Branch, the bidding is fast and furious.

Only gun dealers can bid on those confiscated weapons and ammunition. Some of the dealers have traveled a long way. Many others live closer to the Queen City.

When it was over, the dealers hauled out hundreds of guns, including rifles. Some had to make more than one trip to get all the guns they bought.

To meet demand, Kentucky passed a law 20 years ago which mandates all "confiscated firearms shall be sold at public auction to federally licensed firearms dealers."

All money goes to the state and local police.

Last year, confiscated gun auctions in Kentucky brought in more than $628,000. 20 percent went to the state police. 80 percent was distributed, as required by law, as grants from Homeland Security to five police departments to buy bulletproof vests, guns and ammunition for officers.

Local 12 is still waiting on a full list of what was purchased and which departments benefitted.

Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Terri Theetge is surprised by Kentucky’s law because Ohio law requires a court to approve selling confiscated firearms.

In Cincinnati, a city ordinance simply says all weapons need to be destroyed for public safety reasons.

In 2017, CPD destroyed 1,257 firearms and in 2016 CPD destroyed 1,142.

All of them were melted down at a metal company that's not in Ohio.

  • DUANE: “Would it be [in] Kentucky?”
  • THEETGE: “It might be. It might be across the river.”
  • DUANE: “And that is ironic!”
  • THEETGE: “That is ironic!”

While police don't make policy, CPD’s Theetge is pleased to get rid of the guns.

“Just to alleviate that question of whose hands could it possibly get into? The better alternative is to destroy it,” said Theetge.

Back across the river, in Newport, Police Chief Tom Collins abides by, but does not support, Kentucky's mandate to sell seized guns.

“I'm not happy about it and I think any law enforcement officer feels the same way. Once we get a weapon off of the street I don't want to have to deal with that weapon again,” said Chief Collins.

Chief Collins is so unhappy, he won't accept money collected from that gun auction in Frankfort.

  • DUANE: “So you made a conscientious decision not to get a grant from the sale of the weapons?”
  • COLLINS: “Correct.”
  • DUANE: “You must believe in that very strongly.”
  • COLLINS: “I do.”

But gun dealers have strong beliefs, too, even if they didn't want to talk on camera.

“I don't really want to do interviews because I don't really like the media, no offense,” said one gun dealer.

And with a strong law, and millions of dollars in sales, the sound of the auctioneer at the Confiscated Weapons Sale at the Kentucky State Police Supply Branch will not likely be silenced anytime soon.

Kentucky is one of 11 states that are required to auction criminal weapons

In Indiana, the guns can be auctioned, sold or destroyed. It's up to the local departments.

Newport's police chief is far from alone in his opposition, the International Association of Chiefs of Police say the guns should be destroyed, not sold.

Guns seized and sold by police are turning up as weapons used in new crimes across the country.

How often that happens is hard to say, because the serial numbers for guns are only available to law enforcement agencies.

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