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Lexington Police Department now has new on-site NIBIN computer system to analyze ballistics

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Lexington Police Department now has its own high-tech way to solve violent crimes through the use of ballistics.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Police Chief Lawrence Weathers joined representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in announcing the launch of an on-site computer system called NIBIN for analyzing shell casings. 

The computer system is part of the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN.

As a NIBIN partner, law enforcement agencies can capture digital images of ballistic evidence and match them with shell casings from other violent crimes, establishing investigative links that may otherwise not have existed. The ATF recently installed a NIBIN computer at Lexington Police Department headquarters.

Photo provided by Lexington Police Dept.

“Lexington is tackling the problem of gun violence head-on, and in a variety of ways, from youth programs, to school improvements, to sophisticated technology,” said Gray. “This ATF partnership is an important tool for our officers who work diligently to get violent criminals off the street.”

Just like a fingerprint, a gun leaves unique microscopic markings on fired bullet casings. Even firearms that are the same make and model and produced on the same manufacturing line will generate different markings. 

Shell casings found at all shooting and shots fired incidents are analyzed, as are casings from guns recovered and test fired by police. As shell casings are entered into the NIBIN database and matched with other casings, detectives can connect multiple crime scenes – some from different years or different jurisdictions – knowing that the same gun was used.

“NIBIN has already proven to be an integral part of our investigations. We know the program works,” said Weathers. “Now with an in-house NIBIN machine, investigators can quickly input evidence at any time of day or night, generating possible leads in a matter of hours.”

Lexington Police began using NIBIN in June 2015, first by mailing casings to a correlation center, then by taking evidence once a week to a NIBIN site in Louisville.

The new in-house computer system allows for much quicker analysis of ballistic acquisitions and provides NIBIN access to other Central Kentucky law enforcement agencies. 

So far this year, the Lexington Police Forensic Services Unit has entered more than 200 scene casings, test fired and entered casings from 486 guns, and generated 169 leads.

Matches identified through NIBIN have assisted investigators in several noteworthy cases:

• The 2015 murder of University of Kentucky student Jonathan Krueger.

• A 2017 drive-by shooting that critically injured 12-year-old Amya Catching.

• The 2017 shooting death of Charles Shryock, a bystander killed while walking in his neighborhood.

• The 2018 murder of 19-year-old Mikel Willis.

Lexington’s NIBIN system was provided by the ATF at no cost to the city. Lexington Police will budget funds for maintenance of the computer and software beginning in the fourth year of the partnership.

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