Hamlet police suspended from federal program over weapons snafu

Hamlet police suspended from federal equipment program over weapons snafu

HAMLET, N.C. — The Hamlet Police Department is suspended from a federal gun program after failing to send back the guns they had loaned by the appropriate time.

The wrong guns were sent, the Police Department said, by mistake. And the new police chief told Channel 9 that it was an honest mistake, so no suspensions or firings are planned.

The Law Enforcement Support Services program -- or LESS -- allows local police departments to borrow equipment from military surplus. In the case of Hamlet PD, the department loaned three M-14 rifles and 11 M-16 rifles.

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Hamlet Police Chief Tommy McMasters has been on the job for less than two months, and said it was a recordkeeping error that led to the department missing the initial deadline to send back the weapons and then return the wrong weapons after that.

McMasters said he was unaware of the issue until officials from Raleigh came to Hamlet to make sure the weapons weren’t missing. He did say he didn't want to punish someone for something that happened when he wasn't there to oversee the department.

“Truthfully, it’s a situation where they were supposed to send something back that they just didn’t send back," McMasters said. "They sent the wrong thing back. It’s as simple as that.”

McMasters said the captain who was over the LESS program is still with the Hamlet Police Department, but now serves as a school resource officer.

“He just took a different position that did not require him to be the rank of captain, but he did not get demoted due to this," McMasters said.

Jonathan Blanton, the Hamlet city manager, said he agreed with the Police Department’s assessment that the error was “a case of gross negligence.”

“It’s very disappointing,” Blanton said, “but I’m very confident Chief McMasters will be able to get the department back in the compliance.”

The suspension from the LESS program lasts for four months. After that, it can reapply and will need to complete several steps before it can potentially be allowed to participate again.