CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Police Department officials believe they have added another tool to help them fight gun violence.
The department purchased its own NIBIN machine — which will arrive in the next few weeks. The technology allows investigators to connect crimes based on recovered shell casings.
NIBIN stands for National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, a database system led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
CPD has been using a loaner machine since March 7. So far investigators have filed charges in two cases, but they also made another 88 matches of shell casings connecting multiple shooting scenes.
That’s in just two months.
The data shows how serious offenders are engaging in multiple gun crimes. And those are the kind of offenders who pose the biggest threat to the community.
Last year, there were 492 shooting incidents in Cincinnati.
But year-to-date shootings this year are down 8.4 percent as of April 30. In April alone, shootings fell 40.5 percent compared to April 2015.
Like Fingerprints for Bullets
The technology uses ballistic comparisons to link multiple shooting incidents using distinct marks left on shell casings by the guns that fire them.
It’s a similar database to the ones used by law enforcement to make connections using DNA evidence or fingerprints.
“Hits in NIBIN are like a key you can use to open a box, and hopefully when that lid pops open, some information comes out,” said William King, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.
King is the lead author of a 2013 National Institute of Justice study that looked at NIBIN use around the country.
A NIBIN machine costs more than $200,000. It isn’t flashy. The workstation looks like a standard desktop computer and wall monitor, but the combination of the software and ballistics expertise can make a community-wide impact.
A big difference-maker, King said, is being committed to attaching all the data that goes with each shell casing — time, place, people possibly involved and other detailed evidence — into the system in a timely manner, so that investigators can start to see larger patterns.
“NIBIN is really a potentially powerful tool when police departments use it properly,” King said. “But they have to get evidence processed properly and then out to investigators.”
Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate said Cincinnati Police understand that urgency. He has visited or talked to several other major metropolitan departments that are using the tool productively.
One high-profile example that shows NIBIN’s potential was the additional indictment this March of Rayshawn Herald. He is charged in the random shootings into Downtown’s Great American Tower in January 2015.
Herald was jailed already on charges related to a daytime shootout in May 2015 at a Reading Road gas station. In that case, one bullet struck a passing Metro bus.
Police didn’t make a connection. But NIBIN this year showed a match between the shell casings at the Reading Road incident and those found near Great American Tower.
Following that trail, additional supporting evidence for the January shooting connected Herald to the scene. That led to a federal indictment.
CPD hopes NIBIN cases like that will deter those considering committing a crime with a gun.
“One of the big advantages to NIBIN is that we make a lot of gun arrests,” Neudigate said. “If you’re a convicted felon and I catch you with a gun, a lot of times in state court, you’re going to get probation.”
The local U.S. Attorney’s office, however, has been receptive to kicking cases up to the more serious federal level, where sentencing guidelines are stiffer, if CPD can show evidence that a suspect is likely a chronic gun offender.
Use Goes Beyond CPD
Neudigate said in another local case NIBIN revealed multiple previous crimes tied to a gun a suspect had in his possession when police arrested him. That information completely changed the dynamics in the room when CPD investigators questioned the suspect.
“When you come back and tell them, ‘What if I told you this gun right here that you just got caught with was involved in this shooting at this date and time, and it was also used in this robbery right here?’ And (the investigators) said you could see the guy slump down in his chair each time they brought up an incident, and they were able to get a confession on a predominant amount of those,” Neudigate said.
In the past, many times such cases would have gone unsolved, Neudigate said.
CPD plans to run its backlog of seized guns through the system, but investigators also pledged to work quickly to become the resource for regional gun testing across Greater Cincinnati.
“We know bad guys don’t stop at the city border, and that bad guys go across the river,” Neudigate said. “Those departments have incidents, and if we have one with an identified shell casing that matches incidents in Cincinnati, we want to work collectively not just to make the city safer or Hamilton County, but the region, because this really is a regional concept.”