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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Three high-ranking Iowa State Patrol officials have been placed on leave as officials investigate the process used to award a new state contract to supply handguns, including some that had safety problems, the department acknowledged Thursday.

Maj. Todd Misel, Maj. Michael Winter and Lt. Richard Pierce are on paid administrative leave pending completion of the review, Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan said. All three have "long and distinguished careers" with the patrol, and the public should withhold judgment until the facts are clear, she said.

The patrol's chief, Col. David Garrison, also asked Thursday to step down and be reassigned to his previous position as a lieutenant, Ryan said, but the move isn't related to the pending investigation. Ryan, who took over as commissioner earlier this year, immediately named Michael Van Berkum as the patrol's new leader.

Questions have been raised about the process that led the state to sign a contract last year with Smith & Wesson to supply handguns, as well as the safety of some weapons that have been provided to date, according to records released Thursday in response to an open records request from The Associated Press.

On April 3, Ryan emailed employees that some newly issued handguns were being returned to a supplier and that several Iowa State Patrol employees were getting their old handguns back and had to requalify to use them.

"We take the concerns seriously when it can involve the safety of officers, and in turn, the safety of the public. Rest assured that any future decisions will be based on the very same goal of officer safety," she wrote.

Department of Administrative Services spokesman Caleb Hunter said some of the guns didn't work as intended.

The department hired retired Division of Criminal Investigation agents Ronald Mower and Kirk Neilsen on April 7 to conduct the review, at a cost of up to $10,000, rather than relying on the department's own trained agents, records show.

They were asked to review the process used to draft and issue requests for proposals for handguns, how the responses from potential vendors were evaluated and how contracts were awarded from April 2013 through this March. They were required to sign agreements not to share any confidential information with the "general public or with the media." The review remains ongoing, Ryan said.

She told employees in an email last week that they must be diligent in documenting state contracting decisions and be "entirely fair to all potential vendors."

The department last year sought a vendor for a master contract to supply handguns for state law enforcement officers, including troopers, DCI agents, Department of Natural Resources enforcement officers and others. In the past, those officers used more than one vendor; Smith & Wesson for troopers, Sig Sauer for DCI agents. The change was meant to save money and require a specific safety feature called a "magazine safety lever" that disables the firearm, records show.

Only Smith & Wesson and Glock submit bids for the contract, which called for roughly 600 full-size handguns and 100 compact handguns. Glock was disqualified during testing because its guns didn't have the required safety feature, records show. The contract was estimated to cost the state $28,000 after allowances for trading in officers' old guns. The actual cost to date wasn't immediately available.

Glock didn't appeal the disqualification, Hunter said.

Misel, the patrol's field operations major who earned $113,000 last year, declined comment through a relative who answered his home phone. Phone numbers for Winter and Pierce — who earned $103,000 and $93,000 respectively last year — were not listed.

Ryan told employees that the review would take time.

"I apologize for the angst that comes with uncertainty, and I share in your concern for individuals and the Department as we move through this process," she wrote.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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