UPDATE: The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office says the deputy’s firearm has been recovered. Investigators are still looking for a firearm stolen from a different vehicle.
PREVIOUS STORY: HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A deputy’s rifle was stolen from his patrol vehicle and now investigators are desperate to find the gun before it’s too late.
Sometime between late night Monday and early Tuesday morning there was a string of car burglaries in a Sebring neighborhood. Unfortunately, one of the cars happened to be an unmarked sheriff’s patrol vehicle.
“There was no forced entry, so we’re not positive but we think possibly our member accidentally left it unlocked,” said Chief Deputy Mark Schrader.
The car belonged to a sheriff’s office captain and the suspects stole a tactical rifle, a badge and a vest. In addition, another gun was stolen from another car during the burglary spree. There are concerns that a suspect could use the stolen items to impersonate an officer or commit a heinous crime.
Officials say it’s unclear if this captain violated protocols.
“That’s something that obviously we’ll look at, but I can’t say he did at this point,” said Schrader.
The thought of a stolen rifle does not sit well with the residents here.
“It really worries me,” said resident Ruben Llorens.
“It being the sheriff’s office, you would hope that it would be more secure than that,” said resident Reno Reynolds.
Extra deputies have been assigned to the case. Some were seen combing the neighborhoods and nearby orange groves looking for clues.
“They are looking for the case, and they checked my backyard and found nothing,” said resident Gordon Cooke.
Chief Deputy Schrader said the incident is under investigation. The captain could face penalties if it’s found that he violated protocol.
Schrader says the captain is distraught that this happened. “It isn’t his fault, it’s the bad guy’s fault for breaking into the vehicle,” said Schrader.
In the meantime, the sheriff has ordered a change in policies for weapons in take home cars. The sheriff is ensuring that rifles are more secure from now on.
If you have any information on this crime, call Crime Stoppers. There’s a cash reward for information leading to an arrest.
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