Amid Soaring Gun Violence, Feds to Send High-Tech Gun-Tracing Van to Assist Baltimore Police

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Photo via ATF HQ/Twitter

Ask and you shall receive.

Last Wednesday, Mayor Catherine Pugh revealed in her weekly press briefing that she had appealed to the FBI for help fighting a wave of ballooning gun violence in Baltimore, specifically by requesting more field agents to be present in the city. “We’re looking for all the help we can get,” she said.

On Monday, Pugh’s office announced that some help is arriving from federal law enforcement, albeit not the FBI. According to an advisory sent out last night, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, will let the city use its mobile National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) van, starting today.

Investigators can drive the NIBIN van to a crime scene and immediately process shell casings to try to match them to weapons in the ATF’s gun database. According to the ATF’s website, examiners or technicians can search an image of a casing in the agency’s records to find linked evidence from any jurisdiction across the country.

The NIBIN database, which has been around since 1999, has been used to catalogue about 2.8 million casing images and has confirmed more than 74,000 hits matching other evidence in the agency’s records, according to a fact sheet from the ATF. The NIBIN van was unveiled earlier this year, per The Washington Post.

NIBIN’s reach only goes as far as present and past crime scenes – it can’t catalogue ammunition or firearm information at the point of manufacture, sale or import.

Mayor Pugh unveiled the van at a press conference with ATF agents and Baltimore Police Department officials this afternoon at City Hall, calling it a “creative” and “necessary” approach to solving crimes involving gun violence.

“This challenge is bigger than all of us, and we needed the federal assistance,” said Pugh at the announcement.

ATF Special Agent in Charge Daniel Board joined the mayor, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and city council members at the podium, informing spectators this will be the first deployment of the NIBIN van in any major metro area.

He said the forensics van “is the game changer. It is the difference between getting laboratory leads and results in a matter of days or weeks or months, and getting lab results and leads to our detectives and our agents in a matter of under four hours.”

The high-tech van arrives in Baltimore at a time when officials, law enforcement and neighborhood leaders are making desperate pleas for residents to put down the guns. The number of killings in the city reached 108 in just over four full months on April 30, with five homicides piling up during the final two days of last month, per the Sun’s homicide tracker. The present rate would be enough to surpass last year’s homicide total of 318 over the next eight months.

Crime data from the Baltimore Police Department indicate shootings, both fatal and non-fatal, are up nearly a third through most of April compared to this time last year.

This story has been updated to include comments from Mayor Catherine Pugh and ATF Special Agent in Charge Daniel Board.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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