Feds push Wash. police agencies for 'crime gun' data

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 20, 2012 at 6:57 PM

The federal government is making a new push to get all “crime guns” in the state of Washington registered in a national firearms database.

The move comes after a KING 5 Investigation revealed that thousands of guns seized from criminals are sitting in police evidence rooms without undergoing ballistics tests that should be routine.

“We have to put those crime guns in,” said Kelvin Crenshaw, Agent-in-Charge of the Seattle office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  “They may have the missing piece to the puzzle and if they don’t put that information into NIBIN we’ll never find it.”

NIBIN, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, is a database of crime gun shell-casings submitted by police agencies. The system compares the unique marks each gun leaves on a shell casing, which are often left behind at crime scenes, to see if a casing matches one from a gun or crime scene that is already on file.

A “hit” could lead to a suspect that police would never have identified without the ballistics test.

“It’s only as good as what you give it,” Crenshaw said of the ATF database.

And that’s the problem.  A KING 5 Investigation last month revealed thousands of crime guns taken from robbers, drug dealers and felons weren’t submitted for ballistics analysis.

Through public records requests, KING 5 identified 2,800 crime guns in police evidence rooms in Washington’s largest cities that had not been entered into the NIBIN network.

Now, ATF says it may send firearms experts from its headquarters to Washington state to help police departments.

"If they’ve got a stockpile of 200 guns, or 200 bullets or 500 casings or a thousand casings, possibly we can have someone come out and enter that information into NIBIN," said Crenshaw.

Police blame budget woes

Some police departments told KING 5 they didn’t have the resources to do the work.

Police officers must “test fire” a crime gun to get the shell casings to submit to the lab.  Officers must have a safe place to fire the weapon and collect the shells.

Bellevue Police, who tested only 2 percent of the 500 crime guns in their evidence lock-up, said such testing hasn’t been in their budget.

“It would require a certain amount of funding for the equipment and then the staffing hours,” said Bellevue Police Evidence Supervisor Kim Current.

ATF says it will help police agencies with manpower only if they agree to something in return.

“The key, once we get caught up, is the maintenance,” said Crenshaw.  “They have to keep putting it in (NIBIN).”

Some police agencies have already started the process on their own.

After they were contacted by the KING 5 Investigators, both Bellevue and Spokane, two of the state’s largest police agencies, said they are setting up procedures to test-fire all of the crime guns in their possession.

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