Wichita police chief talks about federal grant money to fight crime
Federal dollars will help the city’s police department partner with Wichita State University to match gun ballistics from different scenes faster.
The initiative announced Thursday will use a $750,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant for a certified firearm examiner and software for identifying ballistics. The examiner will be housed at WSU along with equipment for taking casings and matching them to different crime scenes.
“They (casings) are like fingerprints,” Chief Gordon Ramsay said. “They match the gun.”
Currently, the department sends ballistics to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in Topeka before they are categorized in a system. It takes weeks or months, Ramsay said. The new process will streamline the work to days or even hours.
The technology will allow officers to track ballistics fired from the same gun at different scenes much faster.
The $750,000 grant will be used over three years to help fund the examiner and a records management system for the department and surrounding agencies to share data.
The $185,000 equipment at WSU is expected to be up and running this fall. It was paid for with roughly $120,000 from WSU and the rest from a different grant given to the police department. WSU will use the equipment for its criminal justice program.
Ramsay said the National Crime Gun Intelligence Centers have been popping up around the country the last couple of years. They are done through a partnership with local agencies as well as the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“With the cities that they have started have had a significant … decrease in gun violence,” Ramsay said, adding Wichita will be the only city in Kansas with a center.
Partnering with the DOJ
In Wichita, shootings nearly doubled between 2014 and 2018. All violent crime has trended upward in Wichita and Kansas over the five years as well.
However, Ramsay, who took over in 2016, was optimistic about homicides being down 30 percent year over year.
Wichita is among 40 participating cities total, and 10 selected to join this year in a Department of Justice National Safety Partnership program. The program offers free training and technical assistance at no cost and targets cities with crime rates above the national average.
The National Safety Partnership’s latest annual report is filled with glowing reviews.
Compton, California saw a 40% decrease in homicides in 2017, twice the drop seen in the rest of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department’s patrol areas. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, homicides dropped 16% in 2017 and robberies reached an 11-year low.
Reducing gun violence
Wichita saw 1,600 stolen firearms over a 12-month period in 2016 and 2017. Of those, 328 showed up in violent crime scenes, police said. Updated information was not available.
The 1,600 guns is a four-fold increase from 2012.
To better track guns, the WPD announced “Operation Save-A-Casing” in November 2018. The program aims to have gun owners keep spent cartridges. If their gun is stolen, the owner can turn in those cartridges so officers can track the gun.
A $500,000 Department of Justice grant started the first casing program in the country. Part of the grant covered the cost of a gunshot detection system, using sensors across the Wichita for officers to pinpoint where a shot came from.
Ramsay said the partnership with WSU, federal organizations and surrounding agencies would allow them to “focus on driving those numbers down.”
U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Stephen Stephen McAllister and a representative from U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s office echoed the importance of partnerships. Both spoke during Thursday’s press conference at city hall.
“This grant adds to the equipment the ability to really analyze and analyze quickly what they have connected to various crimes which will then turn into leads, which then turns into investigations, which then turns into charges, prosecutions and convictions,” McAllister said. “And that’s ultimately what we are after, is to get the dangerous criminals off the streets.”