SLO’s police chief carelessly lost her gun. What she did next shows true character

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More coverage on the SLO police chief’s lost gun

Chief Deanna Cantrell left her gun in the bathroom at El Pollo Loco. Who took it and should she be disciplined? Read more here:

San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell is absolutely right: It was “irresponsible and careless” to leave her gun on a toilet paper dispenser in the bathroom of an El Pollo Loco restaurant.

But she’s wrong in saying there is no excuse of her action.

Here’s the excuse: She’s human. And humans make mistakes.

Who among us hasn’t lost or damaged something important through our own carelessness?

SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reported leaving her gun behind in a bathroom stall at El Pollo Loco on Wednesday. The gun is still missing and police are looking for a man who may have taken it and was captured on video camera surveillance. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Maybe it was a passport, keys, a cell phone or a briefcase — the point being, none of us is immune from being so preoccupied that we lose track of something important.

What we don’t always do is own up to our mistakes.

Not Cantrell. She gave us a master class in how to take responsibility for a dumb action.

Not only did she immediately report the incident to her superiors, she apologized to the public and she did it on video, rather than issuing some carefully vetted written statement.

“My actions were irresponsible and dangerous...,” she said. “I was complacent and that’s something you can never be with a firearm.”

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SLO Police are asking the public’s assistance in identifying this man. He may be in possession of a firearm left behind by Police Chief Deanna Cantrell at El Pollo Loco on Los Osos Valley Road. Anyone with information is asked to call 805-781-7312. Courtesy photo

It is absolutely true that the consequences of losing a gun can be far more devastating than, say, losing a wallet.

That’s why it’s so important to be open and honest when losses and thefts do occur, not only to facilitate recovery of the weapon, but also to start a conversation about best practices.

Keep in mind, Cantrell’s mistake is by no means an isolated incident.

According to The Trace, a nonprofit news organization that reports on gun violence, at least 1,781 law enforcement guns were lost or stolen between 2008 and 2017 — and that was just a limited survey that covered approximately 100 department in 29 states. That’s just a “sliver” of the total number of departments in the United States, according to The Trace.

“The firearms were stolen out of glove boxes and closets, left in airports and on roofs of cars, and in one case, forgotten in a high school bathroom. Some were later involved in crimes ranging from aggravated assault to homicide,” it says.

In San Luis Obispo County, there have been multiple reports of police guns going missing:

  • In 2013, a gun was stolen from then-Arroyo Grande Police Chief Steve Annibali’s locked, unmarked police car. Annibali acknowledged violating city policy by leaving the car parked on the street, rather than in a driveway or garage, and by storing the gun in the interior of the car, rather than the trunk.
  • In 2011 in San Luis Obispo, two guns were stolen from a personal car belonging to Paul Brown, who was then with the Morro Bay Police Department.
  • And in 2008 in Paso Robles, a gun was stolen from an unlocked car belonging to then-Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon.

The 2013 incident prompted Annibali to invite local law enforcement agencies to engage in a discussion about how to best store weapons when off-duty.

“We’ve got to make a positive out of this negative,” he said then.

Cantrell shared similar thoughts in her video.

“I hope that in some way this serves as a lesson for others,” she said.

Does it ever. It serves as a lesson in two ways:

It’s a reminder to anyone who carries a gun to be always vigilant.

And it’s a broader lesson to all of us in how to take ownership of our mistakes with humility and grace.

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