In-Depth: Monroe County crime lab connecting guns to hundreds of shootings

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The City of Rochester has a gun problem, we’re on pace to surpass more than 300 shootings in 2021.

News10NBC recently visited the Monroe County Crime Lab for an in-depth look at the work being done to trace the guns that are recovered by law enforcement, to other shootings in this community and beyond.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is tasked with determining how the guns get to Rochester. The agency is tight-lipped about sharing trace data outside of law enforcement but once guns are recovered from criminals here, the local work begins to determine just how often and where else they’ve been used.

Firearms technicians at the Monroe County Crime lab test each and every gun recovered by local law enforcers.

“They check all the parts to make sure it’s safe for them to discharge, they’re also looking for additional evidence hairs, fibers, possible blood,” explained John Clark, the Director of the lab.

The guns are typically fired off to ensure they’re in working condition in a water tank at the lab but technicians also fire into ballistic gelatin blocks that simulate a body and depending on the case.

“They also fire into different objects… building materials such as sheetrock or drywall two-by-fours because it’s important to know what the bullet struck,” Clark said.

As a reference library of sorts, the Crime Lab has kept some of the guns taken off local streets to be used to help in current cases.

“If it’s been thrown out of a vehicle during a chase, the firearms examiners will use parts from the reference gun and restore the evidence gun to working order so now they can fire samples to compare that to the crime scene evidence,” Clarks explained.

Once a gun is connected to the crime at hand, then technicians work to see if it’s been used in other shootings.

“Each gun is going to leave a unique marks or characteristics on any ammunition that is discharged from that weapon,” Clark said.

When bullets, casings or cartages are retrieved at any crime scene, they’re entered into the federal ballistics database, even if a gun isn’t found at that time.

Then, when it is, “so far, this year they’ve had 400 connections or leads in the ballistics database,” Clark said.

The most common type of gun used here in Rochester is a 9mm Glock pistol. In 2020, the Monroe County Crime Lab processed about 1,600 firearms that were taken off the street locally. By June of 2021, they were already at 930 so, it’s on pace to be a record year.