After a four-fold increase in gun thefts over the past five years, the city of Wichita will soon be asking gun dealers and owners to hang on to spent ammunition, to make it easier to identify and return stolen weapons used in crimes.
The city has seen a jump in firearms thefts from about 400 a year in 2012 to 1,600 in the past year, said Deputy Police Chief Jose Salcido.
Of those 1,600 stolen guns, “328 showed up at violent crime scenes in Wichita,” Salcido said.
In 2015, the Legislature passed a law allowing Kansans to carry concealed firearms without a permit.
That has led to more guns in circulation in the community where they can be stolen more easily, Salcido said.
A routine gun-theft scenario is a person carries a weapon regularly, but works somewhere where the employer doesn’t allow them to carry it inside. They leave the gun in the car and it gets stolen in an auto burglary, Salcido said.
“Typically, if somebody steals a firearm, we have no way of tracking that firearm from the theft to the crime,” he said.
That’s where some cooperation from gun dealers and owners can help, Salcido said.
“What we’re going to do is engage gun sellers and gun buyers to save two (fired) casings,” he said. “So when firearms are stolen, they can turn (the casings) over to the police.”
Each gun leaves a distinct imprint on a fired cartridge where the firing pin in the weapon hits the primer, Salcido said. Those can be put in a database and matched to fired cartridges recovered from crime scenes later.
That can help police establish a pattern of crime when they see the same firing-pin marks on casings at multiple sites and trace the gun back to when and where it was stolen, Salcido said.
If fingerprints or DNA were found at the scene of the gun theft, police could use that data to help identify the criminal doing the shooting, he said.
Gun owners would simply keep the spent cartridge specimens at home and wouldn’t turn them over to police unless they had a gun stolen, he said.
When guns are recovered by police, “We’ll be able to return guns back to the owner based on the hit,” Salcido said.
The program will be funded from a Justice Department innovation grant. The federal agency awards money to police departments to try out new solutions to crime fighting.
With the Save a Cartridge program, “they’ve never done it anywhere in the country and we’ll be the first city to do that,” Salcido said.
The City Council is scheduled Tuesday to accept the $500,000 grant for the Police Department.
That grant will also help pay for a “shot detection” system to be deployed to identify when and where guns are fired.
That makes it safer for officers responding to reports of shots fired because they’ll have a more precise location than they get from residents who hear gunshots and call it in. And it should also help lower the crime rate because it has the potential to help police find more shooting sites and fired cartridges, a city report said
The city has considered purchasing a shot-detection system before. The surveillance technology uses audio sensors that are capable of detecting gunfire and can triangulate where the shot occurred within 50 feet. But existing systems on the market were too expensive.
So the city information technology department worked to develop a system in-house with Jason Isaacs, a computer science professor at California State University, Channel Islands, the report said
According to the report, the system won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations or anything like that.
“The design under consideration will not intrude into the privacy of citizens,” the report said. “It does not record or retain ambient noise, rather it specifically listens and reports only gunfire to the central server. “