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Cuyahoga County partners with ATF to clear evidence backlog, save lives

Cuyahoga County Crime Lab
Posted at 4:54 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 18:06:08-04

CLEVELAND — A new partnership is bringing hope in the fight against gun crimes in Cuyahoga County. Beginning this week, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is giving a boost to the county's crime lab by adding it to ATF's National Correlations Center.

There, investigators will take over the process of verifying matches of shell casings entered into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, a nationwide database that attempts to match evidence between gun crimes.

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner and Crime Lab Director Dr. Thomas Gilson said the process of confirming matches between shell casings entered into the database can be a time consuming process, that's caused a backlog in evidence waiting to be entered into the system.

Firearms Examiner Kristen Koeth estimated there are at least 200 cases backlogged with new evidence coming in regularly, especially as the number of homicides skyrockets in the county.

"Since I came here in 2011, our number of homicides has tripled—gun homicides," said Gilson. "That's a pretty staggering thing to talk about."

Gilson said the ATF's assistance will free up lab workers to get evidence entered into the system quicker, potentially alerting investigators to links between cases sooner.

"About one-third of them came [back] positive, they match to something else that's already in the system" said Gilson. "A big lead as they say. It may not tell me who was pulling the trigger, but if the casings match-up, I can say that gun that was used back here in Crime A where we have a suspect, is the same gun that was used here in Crime B, I might want to talk to the suspect again."

Cuyahoga County Crime Lab

Gilson believes that will lead to more arrests, and potentially more lives saved.

"They’re going to permit the more rapid investigation of gun crime in this county," said Gilson. "And I think over time if you can reduce the number of criminals committing gun crime, and the number of weapons being used in gun crime, it has to impact gun crime overall."

Gilson said within hours of taking over verification, ATF found a potential match in Cuyahoga County's evidence. That case is still being investigated.