Check out the police equipment used to track guns in Cincinnati

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For more than a year, the Cincinnati Police Department has operated its Criminal Weapons Intelligence Center. The operation uses technology to target violent gun offenders in the city. Here’s what’s going on inside.

Located on Central Parkway, the building allows Cincinnati police to work directly with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Homeland Security. There are currently 32 Cincinnati officers, seven ATF agents, four Hamilton County deputy sheriffs assigned to the ATF task force and one Homeland Security agent.

Together, they can track the weapons that are being used throughout the city, even before the weapon is found. They can process evidence such as guns and shell casings to obtain fingerprints and DNA. Analysts connect weapons to people and outline how those people are related to each other.

From January 2022 to April 2023, the department made 506 arrests, according to Cincinnati police Lt. Eric Fogelpohl, who is among the center’s leaders.

The Enquirer published an in-depth report in November about a series of cases that were linked through the work done at the Criminal Weapons Intelligence Center. Ultimately, a group was linked to five murders and dozens of murders.

The partnership between federal agents and local law enforcement means charges can be brought at the state or federal level, whichever is more appropriate.

More and more Glock switches are being found in Cincinnati, small devices that turn a Glock pistol into a fully automatic machine gun. With ATF’s presence here at the Criminal Weapons Intelligence Center, agents have brought federal charges in several cases involving the devices leading to multiple convictions.

What is the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network?

Since 2016, Cincinnati police have been using the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, a database of shell casings against which new evidence can be compared. Technology is one of the main tools used in the intelligence center.

What is a cartridge fingerprint?

Using a 3D digital image, the system can identify the unique “fingerprint” that each gun leaves on the casing. When a round is fired from a semi-automatic firearm, the breech face, striker and extractor leave marks on the brass case and cover.

Therefore, two shell casings collected in different places and at different times can be linked to the same weapon, even if that weapon is not in the possession of law enforcement, the ATF said. When a gun is recovered, a round can be fired and the casing can be fed into the system to link that weapon to other firings.

Through mid-2023, the Cincinnati Criminal Weapons Intelligence Center had processed 5,401 shell casings and 1,291 recovered weapons were connected to multiple incidents, Fogelpohl said.

In order to gather as much data as possible for the Ballistics Information Network, the Cincinnati Police and the Criminal Weapons Intelligence Center instituted policies to collect as many shell casings as possible.

What is ShotSpotter?

Large areas of Cincinnati are covered by the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system.

The ShotSpotter system alerts police to a shooting even if no one calls 911. When shots are fired outdoors, the system triangulates where it happened. Even if no one is shot, Cincinnati police respond to all ShotSpotter calls looking for shell casings. The crime intelligence unit’s weapons unit will even send trained dogs to crime scenes to sniff out shell casings when officers can’t find anything.

All of these shell casings are collected to create a map of how guns are used in the city.

In 2022, there were over 3,000 ShotSpotter activations in Cincinnati. Officials at the intelligence center said most of the evidence gathered from those incidents linked to other shootings already in the ballistics information network.

Downtown Cincinnati is getting national attention

The number of gun crime intelligence centers has more than doubled in 2023. There are now 54 operating at the U.S. center in Cincinnati, the first in Ohio. Leaders at the center credit the strong ties between the police department and ATF for its success. If either agency becomes too territorial or controlling, it could cause problems, leaders said.

Due to the success of the Cincinnati center, the Regional Weapons Intelligence Center Multisite Training Conference was held here in August. Law enforcement from across the region came to see the work being done in the city.

Vogelpohl said the approach the center uses has a serious impact on crime while remaining data-driven.

“The CGIC empowers officers to conduct thorough investigations without bias, without charges or accusations of conducting investigations based on race,” he said. “Officers are following the evidence that leads them to a shooter or group of shooters who become the sole focus of our investigations.” The goal is to identify and stop the trigger pullers in the city.”

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