Federal Law Enforcement Helps Chicago Fight Crime

The Chicago Police Department is getting some help from federal law enforcement to investigate gun violence.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is lending the city access to technology that police hope will help close thousands of gun cases opened every year.

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It’s called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN.

When a weapon is fired, it leaves several sorts of markings on the shell casings, kind of like a fingerprint. This technology allows police to analyze those markings, and compare them to casings found at other shootings.

And in this case, the technology is operated out of a $300,000 van that the ATF has just rolled out in the last few months.

The network itself isn’t necessarily new—the Chicago Police Department has access to this information at its own crime lab in Homan Square—but by using the van, police detectives get access to information much faster: two to six hours, versus three weeks.

On Monday, Sen. Dick Durbin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson took a brief tour.

“When there’s a shooting incident, we’ll notify ATF to meet us at that crime scene. They’ll bring the van over, and there’s an attachment that goes with it, so they can actually test fire a gun if we recover the weapon, or if we have casings, they’ll put the casings into their system—a national system. … Each casing is like a fingerprint, and so we’re able to associate those cartridges with other shootings, so that’ll help us track down these guys a lot quicker,” Johnson said.

“They might use a gun in three or four different incidents, and we can track those casings to that particular gun. So when we get that guy, then we might be able to attach him to each of those incidents,” he said.

The van has been in the city for the last three weeks. Before that, it was in Baltimore for 30 days.

Emanuel says it’ll be in Chicago for another month, or longer if the city can convince the ATF to stay through the summer.

The local ATF office says in the three weeks the van has been in Chicago, it’s received evidence from 97 incidents—different shootings—and so far it’s come back with 80 matches to other crimes.

In fact, they say in its first weekend here, the city produced more evidence for the van in one weekend than Baltimore produced in an entire month.

Below: A photo from the ATF of the NIBIN lab at work, analyzing shell casings.

(Courtesy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)(Courtesy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)

Johnson says so far, though, this access hasn’t closed any cases for the Police Department, but it does provide leads to detectives, much more quickly than before.

Durbin says he asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for this support and more.

“ATF demonstrated to me, over and over again, by connecting the dots, by producing the evidence, by tracing the guns, they can solve the crimes and get the gangbangers off the street,” Durbin said. “I think we need more and I asked the attorney general for more. Not just this van, which we can use—I wish it would stay here full time—but also to make sure that the processing of the evidence that is collected is done in a timely fashion. … So we’re asking to have access to the processing facility of ATF in Huntsville, Alabama, that has been given to the city of Los Angeles. It should be given to the city of Chicago.”

The city is also introducing new training for CPD recruits.

Fifty-six recruits from the Chicago Police Department’s senior class on Monday began receiving a brand-new cultural awareness training at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

The training includes the history of African-Americans in Chicago, a discussion on cultural migration and historic discrimination in Chicago, significant events and people from enslavement through the civil rights era, as well as modern-day stories of incarcerated youth.

The new curriculum is a part of the Next Steps for Reform that Johnson rolled out earlier this year. 

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter: @BrandisFriedman

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