More than 5.5 billion pounds of explosives are used each year in the United States by private sector companies and government entities. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has the federal authority to regulate explosives and to license privately owned explosives storage facilities.
After a July 2004 theft of several hundred pounds of explosives from a state and local government storage facility, concerns arose about vulnerability to theft.
Judging from available ATF data, there have been few thefts of explosives from state and local government storage facilities. From January 2002 to February 2006, the ATF received only 9 reports of thefts or missing explosives from state and local facilities, compared with a total of 205 explosives thefts reported nationwide during this same period.
During the course of a General Accounting Office audit, auditors found evidence of 5 thefts from state and local government facilities, 1 of which did not appear in ATF's national database on thefts and missing explosives. Thus, the actual number of thefts occurring at state and local storage facilities could be higher than that identified by ATF data.
The ATF has no authority to oversee or inspect all state and local government explosives storage facilities. State and local government agencies are not required to obtain a license from ATF to use and store explosives, and only licensees -- such as private sector explosives storage facilities -- are subject to mandatory oversight. As a result, ATF has no means to ensure that state and local government facilities are in compliance with federal regulations.
While ATF does not collect nationwide information about state and local government explosives storage facilities, information about some of these facilities is collected--for example, when facility operators voluntarily request an ATF inspection. Since January 2002, ATF has conducted 77 voluntary inspections at state and local storage facilities and found no systemic violations.
By comparison, all licensed private sector facilities must submit a variety of information about their facility--including location and security measures in place--to ATF during the licensing process. ATF also collects information about these facilities during mandatory inspections. At the 18 state and local government storage facilities we visited, a variety of security measures were in place, including locked gates, fencing, patrols, and in some cases, electronic surveillance.
All the facilities' officials told GAO auditors that they conducted routine inventories. But most were not required to be licensed or inspected by state or local regulatory agencies. The auditors identified several instances of possible noncompliance with federal regulations, related primarily to storage safety issues rather than security.
Sources: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, US Department of Justice, US General Accounting Office, National Association of Chiefs of Police Arson & Explosion Committee
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.