INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In the last five years, law enforcement agencies across the United States have gotten more successful in tracing guns used in crimes back to who bought them, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Indianapolis saw a similar trend in the last five years, tracing more than 16,500 guns used in crimes back to the person who bought the firearms.
Assistant Chief Christopher Bailey of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department called it “just better police work on our part.”
Indianapolis police are collecting shell casings from shootings, testing them and putting them into the database created by the ATF. If police confiscate a gun during an arrest, investigators also test that firearm and put the information into the same database to see if it’s been used in a crime.
IMPD compares the database to a tool on their belt that they weren’t using until about five years ago.
In that same period, IMPD has ramped up how much they’re using the database. Bailey said, “We’re just processing the evidence better. which is leading to these increased numbers.”
The report shows where guns used in crimes are being purchased, the age of the person purchasing them, the type of gun, and how many guns were stolen and then used in a crime.
Suzanne Dabkowski, a spokesperson for the ATF, said that “compiling it in one place maybe makes some of the trends more visual.”
She told I-Team 8 the use of the database is just another way for detectives to find criminals. “You can suddenly realize that the same firearm has been used in crimes not just in Indianapolis but in some of the suburban cities as well, whereas before you would never have known that that gun had traveled to these different places. Now, you know that. Now, it doesn’t prove who’s hands it was in. You still have to do good old-fashioned police work to figure that out.”
IMPD’s Bailey said about the data for Indianapolis in the last five years, “The number that concerns me the most is time to crime.”
“Time to crime” is how long it takes for a gun to be used in a crime after it was bought. In the last five years, more than 28% of guns that IMPD traced were bought under a year before they were used in a crime.
IMPD told I-Team 8 that could mean the firearms were stolen from a lawful gunowner, stolen from a gun store, or someone bought them with the intent to sell them to someone who shouldn’t have a gun.
Bailey said, “We’re not just focused on just the trigger pullers. We’re also interested in who’s providing these weapons.”
IMPD told I-Team 8 it needs data the ATF system provides because it’s more difficult to get convictions without it. “It’s no longer eyewitness testimony, or police testimony is not going to be enough to take a case to prosecution, let alone conviction.”
The ATF data characterizes Indianapolis as a large city. Out of 10 large cities, Indianapolis traced the fourth-most amount of guns used in crime in the last five years.