Two special federal prosecutors are being hired and efforts to identify and catalogue guns used in crimes will be intensified under a joint federal and local plan announced Thursday to help combat the rise of gun violence in central Ohio.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and city public safety officials were joined at a media briefing by Steve Dettelbach, director of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Kenneth Parker, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus, to announce the new steps.
Dettelbach, a Democrat and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio who unsuccessfully ran against Republican Ohio Atttorney General Dave Yost in 2018, visited Columbus to discuss how the ATF can partner with Columbus and other area communities to address the issues of gun violence in the region.
"Everything we do begins and ends with that - working to make the public safer," Dettelbach, who was appointed through a bipartisan effort, said. "That means working side by side with our partners all throughout every level of government."
Although homicides and violent crime in Columbus decreased last year from record-setting levels in 2021, Ginther said more work was needed to aggressively track and prosecute criminals using illegal firearms. Last year, the city seized over 3,300 illegal firearms, averaging about nine a day.
Ginther said he was grateful that the ATF was working with local communities to help bolster crime gun detection abilities. He also said the city is planning to spend $5 million this year to purchase tools and technologies that expand city participation in federal government programs.
"This is our top priority," Ginther said. "And we believe that federal government plays a critically important role in helping to make sure this community and communities around the country are safer and healthier."
Expanding local gun crime lab
Columbus police are working with the ATF to expand the use of firearm and ballistics evidence for tracking and prosecuting gun crimes by employing the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and creating a "Regional Gun Crime Intelligence Center."
NIBIN is a national database of digital images of spent bullets and cartridge cases that were found at crime scenes or test-fired from confiscated weapons. The ATF manages the system and provides the equipment to crime labs around the country.
Columbus police Assistant Chief LaShanna Potts said the regional element will help Columbus and neighboring communities share firearm intelligence.
"It gives us focus where we can share information, not working in silos and having information ready at our fingertips," Potts said.
Last year, Columbus police worked with the ATF to host the agency's mobile NIBIN lab stationed in Columbus for the first five months of 2022. Police said last July that the lab was so successful that Columbus was named an "ATF correlation center," which will allow city police to process NIBIN leads faster.
Dettelbach said that creating a Regional Gun Crime Intelligence Center requires a "long-term commitment," and added that the center's plans include involvement with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
"There will be an increasing number of partners who can bring in increased resources and expertise, but also jurisdiction," Dettelbach said. "Criminals don't respect city limits, county limits."
Hiring special prosecutors
The city is planning to spend at least $250,000 so the U.S. Attorney's Office can appoint two special U.S. prosecutors to pursue charges in federal court from Columbus gun crimes.
City Attorney Zach Klein said that "violent, dangerous criminals belong behind bars."
Klein said that one of the things the city wants the special federal prosecutors to focus on are nearly two dozen weapons under disability charges for suspects who have prior misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
Possession of firearms is federally prohibited for individuals previously convicted on misdemeanor domestic violence charges, but not under Ohio law.
"We thought that was wrong," Klein said. "So we filled the gap, closed the loophole."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Two special prosecutors, expanded lab planned to curb gun violence