As the keeper of the guns that Bellevue police take out of the hands of criminals, Kim Current is a believer in technology that can help solve gun crimes.
Current is the manager of the evidence room at the Bellevue Police Department. She's well-aware of a program available to every police agency in the state that provides ballistics tests on crime guns.
“Essentially, it’s like a fingerprint for a firearm,” said Current. “It’s a great system.”
It’s a great system and one that Bellevue police hardly ever use.
Bellevue is one of several large police departments in Washington that is not using what should be a routine ballistics test on the hundred or so crime guns it seizes every year, according to analysis by the KING 5 Investigators.
Those departments could be missing out on a chance to link the guns in their custody to crimes that they would have not otherwise known were connected.
Not in the budget
Bellevue police say the reason is money.
The ballistics tests require police agencies to test- fire the guns they take off robbers, drug dealers and felons.
Those test-fires produce the shell casings that can be entered into the Integrated Ballistic Identification System Network or IBIS.
KING 5’s analysis reveals that only 2 percent of the 373 crime guns Bellevue police seized in the last three years have been entered into IBIS.
“It would require a certain amount of funding for the equipment and staffing hours,” said Current of the test-fires necessary to produce the shell casings. She says that money is not in the budget.
The Bellevue Police Department, serving the state’s fifth largest city, has a yearly budget of nearly $40 million.
Other departments hit the mark
In the city of Kent, the police department’s budget is several million dollars less. But Kent submits shell casings from every crime gun it confiscates, about 80 each year, to IBIS.
It’s part of the job of Kent’s firing range officer to test-fire each gun and send the shell casings off to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Seattle, which places each shell into IBIS.
“We consider it a very important and worthwhile investment,” said Kent Assistant Police Chief Pat Lowery. “We want to be sure that we’re not holding that piece of evidence that might resolve a significant crime in another jurisdiction and maybe bring some closure to the people who were victimized by that gun.”
The city of Seattle, which suffered 20 gun-related homicides in the first half of this year, places all its crime gun data in IBIS. Tacoma and Lakewood in Pierce County also submit high percentages of their crime guns for testing.
The big picture
But a KING 5 analysis shows a greater number of police departments across Washington are leaving those guns unchecked.
In the ten largest cities in the state, KING 5 found 2,818 crime guns that have not been entered into the IBIS network. Those are thousands of guns that are not undergoing ballistics tests that could tie them to shell casings from drive by shootings, gun assaults or murders.
The manager of the State Patrol’s crime lab strongly encouraged police agencies to submit this important evidence to IBIS. “I would say they’re missing an opportunity. They are missing an opportunity to link cases and make arrests,” Terry McAdam said of those agencies that don’t participate.
Bellevue PD making changes
Since the KING 5 Investigators started asking questions, Bellevue police are looking into kick-starting a program to test-fire their crime guns.
“Ideally, I’d love to have every handgun that goes through here IBIS tested,” said Current.
She’s talking with other Eastside police agencies about a joint venture.
“I don’t think we can afford not to do this,” she said.
MORE: This is the second in a series of stories about 'crime guns' called "Trail of the Gun."Watch the first story.