ATF tool gives Lexington Police the ‘ammunition’ they need to trace guns to crimes

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) – Much like a fingerprint, guns leave clues. Police collect them from spent cartridge cases at crime scenes or from cartridge cases tested by officers after the guns are recovered.

The Lexington Police Department uses an internal system called NIBIN. It’s the Integrated national ballistic information network supervised by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

NIBIN captures 3D images of used shell casings that have unique marks on them from the pistol’s firing pin. NIBIN is storing 45 million of these images to see if the envelopes are linked to other gun violence crimes.

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Lexington Police say technology is helping to speed up the investigation process.

“What it does is it allows us to compare these cases across several different potential crimes that have occurred in our city or region and this cuts down on the investigative time we would spend in the field at trying to compare crime cases, ”Lt. Lexington Matt Greathouse said.

In 2021, the city saw more than four dozen shootings, sixteen of which were fatal. Greathouse says NIBIN helps connect the dots.

“These investigations are still ongoing, we have seen three guns already this year that have been linked to homicides,” Greathouse said.

In 2017, Greathouse said NIBIN helped solve the shooting problem of 11-year-old Amaya Catching, who remained paralyzed after being hit by a bullet at a birthday party.

“It was one of the ones we didn’t know we could solve because nobody saw a thing,” Greathouse said.

He says the shell casings from an unrelated “fire call” ended up being linked to the Catching shooting. The early connection helped guide the police to Carlos Jenkins who was awarded life over fifty years for the crime.

“We never got the gun back in this case, we were able to take those two casings and put them together,” Greathouse said.

ATF oversees 245 NIBIN systems in police departments across the country. Kentucky has three that other law enforcement agencies can use.

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ATF

According to ATF data, NIBIN generates 300 to 400 leads per month in Kentucky, or up to 60 leads per month from the Lexington site.

Gun examiners at NIBIN headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, analyzed and cataloged millions of images of shell casings.

Shawn Morrow, a special agent in charge of the Louisville field office, says the ballistic evidence stored in the system can be invaluable to police.

“If you put all the evidence together and don’t make all the submissions, then you just don’t know what crimes you’re missing,” Morrow said.

About Harold Fergus

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