Amid a surge in gun violence that saw more than 2,000 firearms confiscated in the city this year, the Philadelphia Police Department and federal law enforcement officials on Friday announced a plan to more quickly link guns to those who fired them.
A new mobile forensic lab will allow city investigators to analyze more fired cartridge casings and match them to guns already logged into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.
The mobile unit, on loan from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, has the same technology as the Police Department’s Office of Forensic Science, so its use in the field will expand the department’s capacity to analyze evidence, officials said during a news conference Friday.
“When you’re talking about the level of violence that we’re seeing, we need to aid investigations as quickly as possible,” said Mike Garvey, director of the forensic lab, who noted that the city department reached out to ATF to request use of the unit.
“Quality evidence and quality testing leads to transparent policing. Actionable intelligence that can drive an investigation toward the truth,” he said.
The mobile unit was delivered to the Police Department in April, the same month officials from the department, ATF, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced their joint initiative, All Hands on Deck, to work together on the mounting gun crime, which this year has led to more than 2,200 shootings involving 698 victims. There have also been 177 homicides in the city this year — the majority involving guns — a 34% increase from the same time last year.
Police are on pace to confiscate 6,200 crime guns this year, compared to 4,989 last year, officials said.
“These numbers are staggering. And we owe it to the victims to investigate each and every one of these cases thoroughly,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. “As I’ve said since my arrival here in Philadelphia, we cannot do this alone. We’ve asked for assistance, and our federal partners stepped up and agreed to help us.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said the forensic mobile unit is an important tool in finding and arresting violent criminals.
“It will help speed up the following of leads, tracking down the evidence, and identifying the people who committed these crimes,” she said. “It will help take us from the gun to the shooter.”