Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says one of the department's most powerful weapons has gone missing.
At a press conference Monday morning, Ramsey said an M16 fully-automatic assault rifle is unaccounted for following an audit. He has launched an internal investigation and says he believes it couldn't have been taken by anyone but a police officer.
"It could be an inventory issue although we are going through everything we can and we still haven't located it," Ramsey told reporters Monday. "The biggest fear, obviously, is that it was stolen by one of my own members."
The Vietnam-era M16 rifle was stored inside a 4x4x2 crate weighing round 800 pounds that was secured on a pallet and placed inside a dead bolted and alarmed storeroom at the Philadelphia Police Training Academy at 8501 State Road in Northeast Philadelphia.
The department received the gun and 1,355 other M16s from the federal government in 2009 and the guns were being converted into semi-automatic AR-15 rifles. A regularly-scheduled audit, the first since December 2012, showed that one weapon was missing.
Ramsey found out about the missing rifle this weekend. He says he has never heard of this type of incident in the department before and that police know the rifle's serial number.
Only a few officers have access to the secured room and know the keypad combination to the vault room, according to Ramsey. There is no surveillance video inside the room.
Ramsey doubts anyone besides his own officers had access to the weapon.
"This was not someone who came in from the outside to take this... there is no indication of that at all."
Ramsey said that every employee, current of former, that ever had access to the room will be investigated.
"I guarantee you that if it's somebody that I find out took that gun that I will do everything in my power to see to it that they get time in a federal penitentiary," Ramsey said.
It is a federal crime to possess this type of weapon. Ramsey said that his department alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) about the missing weapon.
In the meantime, the department is counting their M16 inventory and comparing the weapons to recorded serial numbers.
"As far as I'm concerned it's a missing weapon," Ramsey said.
Philadelphia Police obtained the rifle through the Department of Defense's 1033 Excess Property Program, officials say. The program allows the federal government to transfer property they no longer need to local law enforcement agencies for free.
The Department of Defense stopped giving away weapons through the program last May after a moratorium was issued. The moratorium remains in effect pending a full weapon inventory.
"We're cross-training some of our officers for active shooter training," Ramsey said. "That's why we have these types of weapons to supplement what our SWAT Team can do."
The commissioner says assault rifles account for only about 2-percent of the shootings in the city.
Ramsey says it's the responsibility of his department to maintain and care for the weapons.
In the wake of this incident, Ramsey said he has instructed the department's audit department to take a tally of "every single firearm that we have in our department."
"We do audits but I want a special audit done in this circumstance."
He also said that moving forward there will be video cameras trained on the storeroom.