116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids police have a new tool to help them stem the gun violence that has plagued the community for the past decade.
That tool is the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network — or NIBIN for short. It’s a federal system that allows investigators to compare ballistic evidence against a national database of spent shell casings that have been collected from crime scenes across the country.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department is the third municipal agency in Iowa to acquire its own system — Des Moines was first, followed by Davenport — joining the ranks of roughly 250 local-level agencies across the country. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab also has one of its own.
The system was paid for and provided by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to Donald Dockendorff, ATF resident agent in Iowa.
Police Chief Wayne Jerman said the NIBIN system, originally acquired in September, is making an impact.
“The NIBIN system has been used in at least 20 shots-fired investigations in Cedar Rapids in the first six months of this year,” Jerman said. “And, from Sept. 9, 2020, through June 28, 2021, there have been 100 investigative leads developed from the NIBIN system for the Cedar Rapids Police Department and other agencies,” including the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Marion Police Department, Iowa City Police Department, Waterloo Police Department, Sioux City Police Department and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
How it works
According to Frank Kelsey, ATF assistant special agent in charge at the Kansas City Field Division, the NIBIN system uses 3D imaging to capture ballistic evidence and compares it with a database of ballistic evidence from other violent crime scenes across the nation. In doing so, the system allows “law enforcement to connect separate shootings, shooting incidents and help identify those responsible,” Kelsey said.
The database now holds roughly 4.5 million captures of ballistic evidence, Kelsey said, along with 45 million pieces of crime scene evidence, including test-fire casings and shell casings recovered from crime scenes.
As of June 2020, the system has generated 223,000 investigative leads and identified 126,500 hits nationally since its creation in 1993, according to the ATF website.
Once evidence is entered into the NIBIN system and a match is found, a certified firearms examiner can then do further analysis to confirm an accurate match.
In the past 10 months alone, Kelsey said, the Cedar Rapids Police Department has entered more than 400 pieces of evidence into NIBIN, resulting in the 100 leads.
“That’s 100 potential connections between shootings and firearms that would have gone undetected only 10 months ago,” Kelsey said.
NIBIN use in cases
Included in those potential connections are three recent cases the police department chose to highlight Thursday in demonstrating the new system.
The first occurred Oct. 2, 2020, when officers were called to a shooting at Cedar River Landing, 301 F Ave. NW.
Police said several shell casings were found. Through an investigation, Johnny Mack Hill Jr., 29, was identified as a suspect. While conducting a search at his apartment according to a warrant, police said officers found three handguns, ammunition, ecstasy and marijuana. The NIBIN system was used to match the shell casings found at the bar to a gun found in Hill’s possession, police said.
Hill faces charges of attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm by a felon and going armed with intent. His case is set for a Nov. 16 trial.
Seven Months later, on May 3, police investigated a shooting at a parking lot in the 3700 block of Blairs Ferry Road NE. Police said Terrell Taylor, 30, was involved in an argument with his ex-girlfriend when Montel Reed, 32, currently her boyfriend, arrived at the home, prompting Taylor to leave. Reed later confronted Taylor in the parking lot, firing multiple shots at Taylor from a vehicle, police said. Reed was taken into custody a short time later.
Police said the NIBIN system was used to match 9 mm shell casings from the scene of the shooting to casings found inside the vehicle that Reed was driving. Reed faces charges of attempted murder, going armed with intent, intimidation with a weapon, willful injury and felon in possession of a firearm. His trial is set for Sept. 14.
The third shooting was two days later, about 9 p.m. May 5. Police said officers were called to a report of shots fired near Mound Farm and 32nd Street NE, where a victim reported being shot at after confronting an individual for knocking over trash cans.
Based on information from the victim and witnesses, officers detained Jachai Crafton, 20, who they said had a stolen handgun. A shell casing from the scene was processed through the NIBIN system and matched to the stolen gun found in Crafton’s possession, police said.
Crafton faces charges of assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, trafficking in stolen weapons, carrying weapons, possession or carrying firearms while under the influence, possession of a controlled substance and public intoxication. A trial is set for Nov. 30.
Preventing gun violence
Police have said they believe a majority of the gun violence in Cedar Rapids is perpetrated by a small number of suspects. The difficulty in proving that, authorities have said, stems from a lack of cooperating witnesses and a lack of solid evidence connecting shooters to shootings.
The NIBIN system is changing that, Jerman said.
In the first six months of 2021, the city saw 60 gun violence incidents that resulted in the five deaths and the injury of eight more. Of those 60 incidents, the NIBIN system generated actionable leads in a third — or 20 — of the cases.
The ability to tie shell casings to firearms and shooters to shootings, Jerman said, will enable police to identify “serial shooters” involved in multiple incidents and work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to build federal cases against them.
Federal penalties for gun crimes often exceed state penalties, said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern district of Iowa Sean Berry.
“We have a message to the drivers of gun violence,” Berry said Thursday. “It just got easier to develop evidence in violent crime investigations — evidence that will be used to send violent offenders to federal prison.”
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