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Columbus to include $5 million in new budget for criminal gun tracking technology

Some of the thousands of illegal firearms Chicago police confiscated in 2014.
M. Spencer Green
Some of the thousands of illegal firearms Chicago police confiscated in 2014.

Columbus' proposed $1.7 billion capital budget includes $5 million that will be spent on tools and technology to help the city trace firearms involved in crimes.

Columbus is aiming to become a regional hub with money in its new budget to help track down firearms used in crimes in central Ohio. The tools will use Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracking technology and databases to identify gun traffickers, potential suspects and patterns of violent gun crimes.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther touted the spending at a press conference Thursday and said the city will follow the ATF's lead to combat the large amount of gun trafficking taking place in America.

"This investment will allow us to be able to better track and our hope is to disrupt, you know, illegal crime and guns entering into our city, or leaving here and being used to commit crimes other places," Ginther said.

Ginther said Columbus could become a regional intelligence center with this technology. He also said it could help law enforcement track guns in the surrounding suburbs, county and state.

The ATF announced this funding in January. The technology uses the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN. The database is administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help share evidence in gun-related crimes.

The technology also involves a program called eTrace, an internet-based system that allows participating law enforcement agencies to submit firearm traces to federal investigators.

"When you put NIBIN and eTrace together and all the other technology we have and social media and DNA, it can help law enforcement to identify patterns in firearms crimes," ATF Director Steve Dettelbach said in January.

A Wednesday news release from ATF said the National Tracing Center operated by the ATF conducted 622,735 traces for firearms associated with crimes last year, a 10% increase compared to 2021 and a 48% increase since 2017.

As of June 2023, the National Tracing Center has conducted 299,319 traces and is forecasting a total of over 675,000 traces by the end of this year.

The ATF said nearly 10,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide already use eTrace.

A city spokesperson told WOSU more information on this partnership will be released in the next couple of months.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.