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How federal and local police officers in Des Moines are working to track down illegal firearms

The Des Moines Police Department says it's recovered 315 guns so far this year, setting it up to potentially outpace previous years.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Through mid-May, the Des Moines Police Department says it's recovered 315 guns off the streets. 

"We average about 600 guns that we take off the street a year," said Sgt. Paul Parizek.

Here's the number of firearms the department recovered in previous years:

  • 2021 — 641
  • 2020 — 690
  • 2019 — 593

"Gun crime across the country is on the rise," said Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert. "Des Moines is not immune to that."

But where exactly are these guns coming from?

"There's nobody driving truckloads of guns into the state of Iowa and dispersing them for criminal use," said John Ham, who works as the public information officer for the Kansas City Field Division of the ATF. "The guns that are used in crime and in out in the state of Iowa are typically sourced from the state of Iowa. The primary way that guns get into the hands of criminals in the state of Iowa, certainly in Des Moines, is they're stolen."

Last year in Des Moines, 53 guns were stolen out of cars while 28 were stolen from homes.

"You look at the numbers of guns that we've had stolen out of cars in the past two years, it's ridiculous," Parizek said. "Because your car is not a safe place to store something valuable. And what's even more frightening about that is, who breaks into cars? The majority of people who prowl cars are young kids."

Once the weapons fall into the wrong hands and are used in a crime, DMPD and the ATF employ something called NIBIN

"So NIBIN, or the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is a network that ATF has been creating for many, many years," said Ham. 

The NIBIN machine scans shell casings recovered from scenes and uploads 3D images. What's captured by the device reveals the one-of-a-kind extractor marks left behind from the gun that fired it. 

"We've long known that fingerprints are very unique identifier, the same thing exists in shell casings," Ham said. "The gun that fires the shell, leaves unique markings that no other gun will ever leave."

"For example, last week we recovered a gun from one person," said Parizek. "He admitted to us where he had stolen that gun, and when he had stolen it. We were able to connect that gun to three different shootings since that time."

"It's completely blind to race, to where the person lives, to anything else," Ham added. "To any kind of politics to anything else that's happening in our society. NIBIN doesn't know any of that. It just knows that the gun that fired this round also fired these."

The Des Moines Police Department has had its own NIBIN machine for a few years.

"The state of Iowa has one at the DCI lab," Wingert said. "However, they're servicing the entire state. So you can imagine the backlog. So what may have taken months to turn around information to put in the hands of our detectives, can now be done in a matter of hours."

DMPD and the ATF say the technology would not be as useful if it wasn't for the officers and agents who work side-by-side to share this intel. 

"Our partnership with the Des Moines Police Department, we work hand in hand with them every day," said Ham. "Reducing violent crime is the whole purpose behind that."

"We can rely on each other," Wingert said. "Because our folks on the street, they'll see things happening that maybe the ATF doesn't see at their level. The ATF will see things happening, trends across the country that maybe we don't see at the local level. So having that partnership, and that commitment truly gives us an advantage when it comes to the violent crime, particularly the gun crime in Des Moines."

To prevent firearms from ending up in the wrong hands, law enforcement urge you to keep your weapons locked. In addition, keep documentation and registration papers in a separate space. This way if the gun is stolen, the owner will still have the key information needed to alert authorities with. 

Officers also encourage the public to be mindful about what they post on social media as well as the bumper stickers they place on their cars. Many times these can be a tipoff to criminals looking to score weapons.

And with so many weapons stolen out of cars in Des Moines, police ask you never keep your gun in your vehicle.

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