YPD, ATF, match ballistic evidence in city to 52 crimes


By Joe Gorman

jgorman@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

City police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have linked firearm evidence collected at crime scenes in 2017 to 52 unsolved crimes.

The evidence – bullets, shell casings or guns – was found at scenes as serious as a shooting where a person was wounded to the collecting of evidence when someone was taken into custody or investigated for firing a gun into the air to celebrate the new year.

The casings collected by city police were then run by ATF members through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN, which is maintained by the ATF, and where the matches to other crimes were found.

Police Chief Robin Lees said the number of cases the evidence links to is high, yet he added he was pleased with what officers and crime-scene personnel were able to do in collecting the evidence. He also commended the work of ATF for being able to match the evidence.

“The fact that we’re connecting the dots to that many cases is significant,” Lees said.

Bob Miller, in charge of the Youngstown ATF office, said he could not divulge what the crimes were or where they were located, but he did say that a majority of them were in the area.

Miller also said it is not surprising that a gun that is used in a crime is used again. He said they are most often used by people who cannot get a firearm legally, so they are passed around or sold to someone who wants a gun.

“It happens all the time,” Miller said.

Miller said every firearm has a unique match, like a fingerprint, that it leaves on a projectile or shell casing after it is fired. That is how they are able to be linked to other investigations.

City police will submit shell casings collected at shooting scenes or test fire a gun in the department’s Crime Lab, then send the spent bullet, casing and gun to ATF to be run through NIBIN.

Capt. Brad Blackburn, the city’s chief of detectives, said police have been able to solve homicides in the past because of evidence that was matched through NIBIN.

“It is a very valuable tool for us.” Blackburn said.

When the information from NIBIN is received and matched to a case, Blackburn said it is immediately given to the lead detective on that case. Depending on the circumstances of each case, it can be an important breakthrough or sometimes the first piece of evidence investigators get.

Lees said the department used to do NIBIN checks on its own, but the decision was made before he was chief to have them performed by the ATF instead. Lees said he is grateful for the use of the database. He had one of his officers assigned to ATF, John Aeppli, speak to patrol officers at roll call for each shift to stress the importance of collecting casings and other evidence at shooting scenes.

Miller said the partnership with Lees and the department is a good one.

“It’s really been everyone working their butts off to make it better,” Miller said. “We’re still looking at ways to improve it.”

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