Feds offer to help Spokane PD work through backlog of untested guns


by KREM.com & Jane McCarthy


Posted on November 21, 2012 at 8:10 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 3:16 PM

SPOKANE -- The Federal Government is taking action after information uncovered by our sister station KING 5 News in Seattle revealed thousands of crime guns across Washington State are not getting a routine ballistics test.

KREM 2 News looked into the same issue in Spokane and found very few weapons held by the Spokane Police Department are making it into a nationwide database.

Federal Agents are now offering help to see if those guns hold crucial evidence.

The Head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms urged all Washington police departments to do a ballistics test of all crime guns sitting in their evidence rooms.

"They may have the missing piece to the puzzle.  And if they don't put that information into NIBIN -- we'll never find it," said Kelvin Crenshaw, ATF.

NIBIN is the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, a database of crime gun shell casings. Police just need to test fire a gun to get shell casings to mail to the State Crime Lab for a no-cost ballistics test.

When a cartridge goes through a gun, that gun puts unique markings on it. The nationwide system compares those shell casings to all of the other guns and crimes on file. A “hit” could lead to a suspect police otherwise would not have identified.

Right now, the ATF says the system is not nearly as strong as it could be because many of Washington’s largest police departments (including Spokane) have only been testing a small fraction of their guns.

Spokane tested 20 guns in three years.

When KREM 2 recently brought the low testing rate to the attention of the Spokane Police Department, Major Craig Meidl said his department will now commit to testing their weapons and entering all of their eligible guns into the database. 

Meidl admitted a backlog of thousands of guns in their property room will take time to test, but that they would make it a priority to get caught up.

ATF leaders are anxious and said they may send firearms experts from their headquarters to Washington State to help individual departments work through the backlog of untested guns.