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'A force multiplier': Utah law enforcers announce new center to investigate gun crimes

Utah law enforcement officials announced they're teaming up to pool data in a new intelligence center as agencies around the state investigate gun crimes.
Utah law enforcement officials announced they're teaming up to pool data in a new intelligence center as agencies around the state investigate gun crimes.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah law enforcement officials announced they're teaming up to pool data in a new intelligence center as agencies around the state investigate gun crimes.

The Utah Crime Gun Intelligence Center will combine forces from the Utah Department of Public Safety, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and city and county police agencies, according to a news release Monday from the Utah Department of Public Safety.

At the center, investigators will use several tools to examine shell casings and link gun-related violence in the state.

"The results will give law enforcement officials real-time data and investigative leads needed to prevent gun crime from occurring or to stop it at its onset," according to the release.

What makes the new intelligence center different than what's previously been used by investigators in the state is use of a database managed by ATF to link information about gun-related crimes. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network allows officials to share information statewide and across the nation, according to Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Squires.

The database, purchased by the Utah Department of Public Safety in August, cost about $250,000, according to Marissa Cote, public information officer for Utah Department of Public Safety.

"What is happening is that this system allows them to match specific information much like you would a fingerprint. Each firearm and the ammunition that's fired out of it leaves distinctive markings that can be matched to different crimes and crime scenes and suspect," Squires said.

"And so this is a force multiplier for us in being able to identify those violent suspects who are using guns in the commission of felony crimes and other crimes using a firearm," he said.

For example, if a city has seen multiple drive-by shootings, law enforcement can potentially connect them in one investigation through the technology, Cote said.

According to ATF's website, the database "automates ballistics evaluations and provides actionable investigative leads in a timely manner," and it's the only network of its kind in operation in the U.S.

"One reason I'm so enthusiastic about this, is there's lots of requests for very limited resources, but this is one that I felt strongly would benefit our communities throughout the state in being able to identify a relatively small group of individuals who are committing violent crimes using firearms," Squires said.

The center will also use the ATF National Tracing Center, which traces firearms nationally and internationally, according to ATF's website.

Staff working full time in the intelligence center will include five forensic scientists from the State Crime Lab, one agent from the State Bureau of Investigations and one intelligence analyst from the Statewide Information and Analysis Center, according to Cote.

Other Department of Public Safety staff are now being trained in the State Crime Lab to work part time in the new intelligence center, Squires said.

"We also are working with our local partners in the cities and county police agencies to help us with collecting related evidence from crime scenes and submitting it to the lab for analysis," he said.

An earlier version incorrectly spelled the last name of Marissa Cote, public information officer for Utah Department of Public Safety, as Cotes.