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Little Rock police will use a federal grant to help fund a new unit aimed at reducing gun crimes, one of the latest efforts in a larger push to combat violent crime in Arkansas' capital city.

The U.S. Department of Justice grant for $479,342 will be used in part to purchase technology that's expected to cut the time it takes authorities to link shell casings found at different crime scenes.

The new unit is expected to resemble efforts in cities such as Denver and Milwaukee, each of which follows the Crime Gun Intelligence Center model. Experts say the model, which uses cutting-edge technology, has shown promising results so far and has the potential to become commonplace in departments across the country.

"Clearly, we have a problem with violent crimes in this city. And this is another avenue for us to try to address that," said Little Rock police Capt. Ty Tyrrell. "I think everyone in this city will agree that we've got an issue. We need to work hard to solve it."

Little Rock witnessed a surge of gun violence in 2017, a trend accented by a mass shooting at a downtown nightclub that left more than two dozen people injured. Police data show the number of nonfatal shooting victims in Little Rock has increased every year since 2014.

The data account only for the number of shooting victims related to first-degree battery cases. Last year, there were 203 of those victims in Little Rock -- a more than 35 percent increase from the 150 victims logged in 2016, according to department data.

Last year's figure is more than double what it was in 2014, when the department logged only 98 victims.

QUICKER INFORMATION

The federal grant, known as the Technology Innovation for Public Safety, will allow Little Rock police to purchase their own National Integrated Ballistic Information Network machine, which can be used to determine whether shell casings found at different shooting scenes were fired from the same gun.

Having such a machine in-house will allow for a quicker turnaround on linking gun violence, Tyrrell said.

Right now, Little Rock police use a machine at the state Crime Laboratory. But officials say they have limited access to the machine and the turnaround is too slow.

"You want to know about it right away, so the detectives can get something actionable quick," Tyrrell said, mentioning that an in-house machine could be available at all times.

Made up of civilian and sworn law enforcement positions, the unit is expected to have four full-time positions and two part-time positions, said Capt. Ken Temple in an interview last month.

The grant, Tyrrell said, will also expand the department's "social network analysis" related to shootings. Research shows that if a person is a victim, suspect or witness to a shooting, they are more likely than someone else to get shot or shot at in the future, according to Tyrrell.

"Which, when you think about it, makes sense," he said. "If I'm in a gang and I associate with other gang members, one of my fellow gang members gets shot, I'm in a heightened risk for getting shot, when compared to your average person who's not involved in a gang."

The effort is not associated with social media, but Tyrrell said it will enhance the department's ability to identify those with an increased risk of gun violence.

"Those would be people you would want to extend some city services out to," he said.

ENCOURAGING RESULTS

Denver police Cmdr. James Henning describes himself as a "total believer" of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center model.

"We get better leads faster," he said.

He noted that Denver has seen a drop in gang violence, and investigators can get analysis back in about 48 to 72 hours, sometimes sooner, on what incidents a gun has been used in.

"And that gives us leads on other crimes," he said.

Little Rock's new unit is expected to use similar techniques, but will not be a re-creation of the model. Unlike Denver, Little Rock does not have a gunshot detection system that can pinpoint the location of where shots are fired.

Yet, Henning said not incorporating all of the model's techniques can spell disappointment for a department. The gunshot detection technology is needed to find shell casings, even in shootings in which nobody is wounded. Then the casings need to be processed in a timely manner, followed up by detectives who can immediately act on any leads, he said.

Looking into the future, Henning predicted the model being as commonplace as fingerprints and DNA.

Little Rock's grant request initially included funds to buy gunshot detection devices, Tyrrell said in an email. But since the grant request was submitted, a research partner came forward and wanted to use Little Rock as a "test city for a gunshot detection system he was trying to develop," he wrote.

"Since we may have an opportunity to obtain a gunshot detection system through this new research partner, the TIPS grant will be modified to purchase a NIBINs machine," according to the statement.

A report by the Police Executive Research Forum described the crime gun intelligence center model as "an innovative and promising approach for enhancing the investigation of gun crimes and identifying offenders." The examination focused on models in three cities -- Denver, Milwaukee and Chicago.

According to the report, all three continue to face serious challenges with gun violence, but the time it takes to analyze evidence went down, and the departments improved their abilities to connect guns to "crimes that may appear unrelated."

Darrel Stephens, former executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said the model positions agencies to be preventive, rather then just reacting to the violence.

Stephens said the gun crime intelligence centers are a step in the right direction and, so far, have produced encouraging results. Yet, he said law enforcement has to be thoughtful on how it proceeds with the documentation and research associated with the centers.

The federal grant awarded to Little Rock will also fund a research partner.

A BIGGER EFFORT

The new unit is one of several initiatives and efforts from local and federal authorities to target violent crime in Little Rock. In the wake of the nightclub shooting, officials created an FBI-led task force aimed at targeting gangs and violent crime in the city.

Both Little Rock and West Memphis also participate the Public Safety Partnership, a Department of Justice program designed to enhance support of law enforcement and prosecutors "in the investigation, prosecution, and deterrence of violent crime, especially crime related to gun violence, gangs, and drug trafficking."

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice also announced the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock will receive an additional federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Arkansas under a federal initiative aimed at reducing violent crime. The office will receive an added assistant U.S. attorney to focus "exclusively" on violent crime.

The office said it also plans to announce new initiatives and programs aimed at addressing violent crime problems in the Eastern District of Arkansas, and in particular, Little Rock.

Metro on 01/15/2018

Print Headline: LR police to get crime-fight tool; U.S. to fund ballistics tracer

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