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Picture my surprise—VPD guns on a dumpster-dived phone!

June 15, 2017

A photo from a dumpster-dived phone of a Walther handgun tagged with a Vancouver Police Department case number.

Yesterday I was manually deleting personal information contained on an old 2011 HTC Amaze Android phone pulled out of a dumpster, when I realized that some of the photographs in its internal memory appeared to be of firearms that were labelled as having been in the property of the Vancouver Police Department.

I wanted to use this phone but, for technical reasons stated at the end of the post, I could not simply erase it with a factory reset—I had to manually delete all user content and settings.

There was no SD card but the phone’s internal memory contained over 800 photos and videos (about a gigabyte-worth). Being a bit nosy I skimmed the images.

Nestled among snaps from trips and hockey games and soccer matches and various restaurant meals and notable spots around Vancouver, there were a handful of photos of firearms.

My first assumption was that the photos—all circa 2014—were of firearms that the phone’s former owner had collected or had considered buying. There is nothing inherently unusual about this.

There are lots of gun collectors in Vancouver; I know a few of them and without exception they seem to be surprisingly sane and well-adjusted people.

However, there was something odd that did catch my eye.

Many of the firearms were tied with official-looking paper tags, all neatly labelled with the words “evidence” and “disposal”. And when I did a search on the first and last name that was on most of the tags, the results showed that there was a Vancouver Police Constable by the same name.

“Gun shots in a Fairview dumpster” sounds so clickbait

Photos of a CZ858 Tactical-2P rifle taken from the HTC Amaze’s internal storage.

Three of the gun photos on the HTC Amaze, from March of 2014, had nothing to do with the Vancouver police; these were closeups of the muzzle and body of a CZ858 Tactical-2P rifle.

Notably, one version of the CZ858 Tactical-2P, nicknamed the “Spartan”, was declared a prohibited weapon by the RCMP in January of 2017.

According to Canadian Firearms Blog (CFB), the RCMP Firearm Reference Table (FRT) states that the “‘CZ858 Tactical-2P’ firearm proofed 2007 can be converted to a fully automatic firearm in a relatively short period of time with relative ease”.

I cannot check the above statement because only people with a valid Canadian firearms permit can access the FRT. However, the RCMP’s restriction appears to be as limited as the CFB suggests. The CZ858 Tactical-2P is otherwise a perfectly legal firearm according to the Government’s current SOR/98-462: “Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms [etc.]”.

One of two May 2014 photos of a firearm tagged as a “Walther handgun” for “disposal”.

Three other photos, from May 2014, show a handgun tied with a paper tag labelled as follows:

Make: WAL. Calibre: UNKN
Serial #: FAL3898 Desc: WALTHER HANDGUN
Case: GO VA2014-84520  DISPOSAL
Evidence: N  Report Date: 2014-May-24
VA2560 [name omitted]”

There is nothing here to indicate that the gun is a fake or a replica. The “case” number appears to be a Vancouver Police Department (VPD) file number, or general occurrence (GO) number. The last line may begin with a badge number—it ends, as I say, with the name of a current Vancouver Police Constable (which I have omitted).

The ammo magazine is certainly decorated with an appropriate sticker.

There are two photos of a military style rifle with a skeletonized butt, that looks like it was owned by a skateboarder:

Make: ZZZ Calibre: UNKN
Serial #: 0101138 Desc: HAS STICKERS ALL OVER IT
Case: GO VA2014-8450  DISPOSAL
Evidence: N  Report Date: 2014-May-24
VA2560 [name omitted]”

Another photo of a rifle, very similar to the last—while it doesn’t capture the tag very well—shows that its tag is labelled with the same GO number, date and VPD officer as the two previous firearms.

There are a number of other other firearms photographed on a similar stainless steel table between March and April of 2014—all rather vintage. At least four show tags with different GO numbers and names. The tag on one rifle is marked after the GO number with “SAFEKPING”.

This police thing may be a collector’s innocent infatuation

Former West Vancouver police officer Todd Mosher: “cited for leaving work to feed his dog”.

The firearm photos are somewhat reminiscent of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) uniform shirts that I found in a Fairview dumpster back in 2014.

However, I’m not suggesting that the trashed phone was once owned by a Vancouver police officer, though the content of the phone do suggest a strong interest in the police on the part of whomever filled it up with content.

For example, there was information about a 2012 executive position on the Vancouver Police Board and vacation photos of New York City, which included several meet-and-greet photos of NYPD officers. There was also a photo of a February 20, 2014, Province news story about the dismissal of West Vancouver police officer Todd Mosher.

As the Vancouver Police Department has now explained, my original explanation for the gun photos was wrong. Originally I thought it likely that the Vancouver Police sold or auctioned confiscated (but legal) firearms to reputable gun dealers and that the tagged firearms pictured on the HTC Amaze represent the wares of one such dealer that piqued the interest of the original phone’s owner.

However, Friday morning (June 16) the VPD sent me a direct message on Twitter  to both ask for the name that I omitted to mention in the post—of the Constable listed on some of the tags—and to explain categorically about the handling of seized firearms:

“I can tell you that we don’t sell any seized guns—real or replicas. They are all destroyed once all court proceedings are complete and any retention dates have passed.”

So in original post I was also wrong about the VPD never responded to any of my questions.

Some readers may see a lesson here, to the effect that they should do a factory reset on their old Android phones before they throw them away. This is generally easy enough to do (if the power button works) and I certainly wouldn’t mind.

From my point of view though, the firearm photos on this trashed phone simply serve to further illustrate the kind of unexplainable mysteries which one can easily stumble across when digging or diving in a Vancouver dumpster.

Nothing on the phone, in fact, was quite so inexplicable, however, as one photo from October of 2012. This photo showed what looked like a found panhandler’s cardboard begging sign, taped to the back of someone’s office cubicle chair.

What the…?

Working with the garbage phones you find (in the garbage)

A 2011 HTC Amaze fresh from the trash, with a spot of bother on the screen.

The phone, as I say, is a vintage 2011 HTC Amaze, running Android 4.0-something. The touchscreen has a small round dead spot. The case shows much wear and tear, while the power button on the top of the case is only functional about one twenty-fifth of the time.

Basically a worn-out phone but one that still works, more-or-less.

More importantly, it works on the same Canadian network that I have a pay-as-you-go account with. And well, I accidentally did some costly damage to the screen of my lovely dumpster-dived Xperia Z and so I’m hoping to use the HTC Amaze as a spare.

Before I tackled the photos in the phone’s internal memory I had already scrubbed the old user’s Google account and uninstalled as many apps as possible, including everything relating to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. I also deleted the contents of the Downloads and Documents directories.

In short, I was manually deleting all the personal information, settings and data related to the phone’s previous owner. The only reason that I did not just erase the phone with a factory reset (like I did with the Xperia Z) is because (probably thanks to the futzy power button) the phone wouldn’t cooperate.

A closeup of the well-used phone.

Unfortunately, all the available Android apps to remap the function of hardware buttons, trigger a hard reboot or perform a factory reset, without recourse to the power button, require either a rooted device and/or an Android version higher than the HTC Amaze can attain.

I was methodical and tried many, many workarounds.

A setting supposedly available in Android 4.x-forward, to schedule turning the phone on and off, would’ve helped a lot but was not available on the Amaze. Pulling the battery, plugging in the phone to charge on a laptop and then replacing the battery did not (as suggested) cause the Amaze to turn on.

One promising button remapper app, which was listed as working without root, capped its installation by asking me to reboot the phone—which, as you know, is one of the options on the menu invoked only by holding down that pesky power button.

Ultimately, nothing allowed me to replace the functionality of the broken power button. The best that I can do is to keep the phone charged and leave it running with the screen set to sleep quickly.

Believe me, I was a picture myself (of frustration) long before I got around to the puzzling camera images in the internal memory!

June 18 update: A commenter to the reblog of this post points out that the handgun labeled by the VPD as a Walther is actually a Chinese-made Norinco M1911A1. This is a semi-automatic handgun classed as export-restricted, meaning that it cannot be shipped outside of Canada. A Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) for restricted firearms is required to legally own one. Click the images to enlarge them.

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