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ATF tool gives Lexington police the 'ammo' they need to trace guns to crimes

Posted at 11:54 AM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 19:11:01-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Much like a fingerprint, firearms leave clues. Police collect them on spent shell casings at crime scenes or on casings test-fired by officers after guns are recovered.

The Lexington Police Department uses an in-house system called NIBIN. It's the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

NIBIN catches 3D images of the spent shell casings that have unique marks on them from the gun's firing pin. NIBIN stores 45 million of those images to see if the casings are linked to other crimes of gun violence.


Lexington police say the technology helps speed up the investigative process.

"What it does is it allows us to compare these casings across several different potential crimes that have happened within our city, or our region and it takes the investigative time down that we would spend out in the field trying to compare the casings from crimes," said Lexington Lt. Matt Greathouse.

In 2021, the city has had more than four dozen shootings, sixteen of them were fatal. Greathouse says NIBIN helps connect the dots.

"Those investigations are still ongoing we have seen three firearms already this year that have been linked to homicides," said Greathouse.

In 2017, Greathouse says NIBIN helped solve the shooting of eleven-year-old Amaya Catching, left paralyzed after she was hit by a bullet while at a birthday party.

"It was one of those we didn't know we'd be able to solve because nobody saw anything," said Greathouse.

He says shell casings from an unrelated "shots fired call" ended up being linked to Catching's shooting. The early connection helped guide police in the direction of Carlos Jenkins who received life plus fifty years for the crime.

"We never recovered the firearm in that case we were able to take those two casings and put those together," said Greathouse.

The ATF oversees 245 NIBIN systems at police departments nationwide. Kentucky has three that other law enforcement agencies can use.


According to ATF data, NIBIN generates 300 to 400 leads a month in Kentucky which up to 60 leads a month from the Lexington site.

Firearms examiners at NIBIN's Huntsville, Alabama headquarters have analyzed and cataloged millions of images of shell casings.

Shawn Morrow, Special Agent in Charge of the Louisville Field Office says the ballistic evidence stored in the system can be invaluable to police.

"If you're collecting all the evidence and not making all the submissions, then you just don't know what crimes you're missing," said Morrow.