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Home  >  Topics  >  Investigations

December 28, 2003
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Greensboro, N.C. Police Not Making Use of Widely Used Bullet-Tracking Technology

The Greensboro News & Record

The robber confronted the Burger King manager in the back of the restaurant. He took the manager's wallet, shot him in the forearm and fled - but not before leaving the gun behind.

With only the dropped gun to go on, Greensboro police might still be looking for the shooter.

But the robbery happened in Durham, where a computer analysis of bullet casings fired from the gun showed it was used in a shooting a year earlier. Police had arrested that shooter, giving investigators a prime suspect.

The same ballistics technology used by Durham and the rest of the state's metropolitan police departments to link crimes and make arrests is available to Greensboro police. But over the past three years, Greensboro has largely ignored the technology, according to police officials and state statistics.

Of the state's five largest police departments, Greensboro has the fewest guns listed on the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, a database that allows police to compare markings on bullet fragments and casings to determine whether the same weapon was used in different crimes.

Since 2000, Durham investigators entered ballistic results from 866 guns or bullets into the database. Over the same time, the State Bureau of Investigation has entered 52 guns or bullets recovered by Greensboro police into the NIBIN.

"It's not been a priority," said Capt. Rick Ball, who heads the team charged with reducing gun violence in Greensboro. "Nothing in our evidentiary procedures indicates that it's a priority."

The technology had been around for more than a decade, but no one in the department talked about it outside the crime lab before last year, Ball said.

"It's something that should have gone department-wide, and they just ignored it," he said.

Robert White, who headed the department at the time, is now the chief in Louisville, Ky. He did not return phone calls for comment by The News & Record of Greensboro. Chief David Wray said he plans to change the department's track record.

Greensboro officers who confiscate a gun from a suspect, find bullets at a crime scene or pick up a found gun decide whether to send that evidence to the SBI for testing.

So far, they only send information to help solve homicides, serious assaults and crimes they already suspect are linked, Ball said.

The result is that Greensboro investigators can recall only one time in the past six years that shootings in Greensboro were linked.

Charlotte investigators test slightly more than half of all guns the department takes in and every unique bullet casing or bullet recovered from crime scenes. More than 1,000 entries since 2000 have produced 35 hits, and the number of times those hits led to an arrest is even smaller.

"I'd be hard-pressed to say three," said Bill McBrayer, who oversees gun testing for Charlotte-Mecklenberg police. "If you think it's going to solve the world's problems, it's not necessarily going to do that."






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