Crime-fighting agencies in Ohio are getting tools they can use to solve their cases.
Bowling Green’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation on Wednesday showed off new equipment at an open house, hosted by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
BCI personnel showed off equipment used to test trace amounts of drugs and track ballistics. A vehicle used for mobile on-scene investigations also was on display.
The agency has made a major expansion in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which is used to link crimes involving the same firearm.
Formerly the only site for NIBIN was in Richland County but has now been added to the Bowling Green lab and is available for trained law enforcement.
“We’re hoping to dramatically increase the volume of the evidence so we can fill in the Swiss cheese in the database,” said Attorney General Dave Yost said.
NIBIN compares digital images of submitted fired cartridges against the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms a
nd Explosives (ATF) database.
It is built on previous submissions, so it becomes more useful as more law enforcement agencies add to the database.
“Every shell casing that gets found by law enforcement in connection with a crime can be uploaded … and then when you search, you can see has this gun been used in other crimes or in other places,” Yost said.
“Essentially, these marks are the fingerprint of that firearm,” explained Jared Schultz, NIBIN technician as he showed the image of striations on a cartridge shell.
With gun violence increasing, the state is trying to fill in the database, Yost said.
Just like DNA matches are being made every day to solve cases, BCI is trying to increase the amount of evidence local police agencies put into the system, he said.
BCI also has a new device to test controlled substances.
“We’re really targeting meth and cocaine,” said BCI lab supervisor Jessica Toms about the MX908 pilot program.
The MX908 needs just a trace of the substance for identification.
There are 13 host sites in 60 counties in Ohio that currently have an MX908, which costs about $75,000.
The Wood County Sheriff’s Office has one as does Ottawa, Lucas and Sandusky counties, Toms said.
Any officer trained in the area can access the devices, she explained.
It’s a very simple machine to operate, said BCI Special Agent Supervisor Scott Stranahan.
“You don’t need a lot, this is a trace detector,” he said before rubbing a Band-Aid-size strip over an empty bowl and inserting it into the machine.
Wednesday’s demonstration was of methamphetamine, and it took less than a minute for the results.
This eliminates the previous need to open packages – and expose the agents – in order to identify the substance, Stranahan said.
The device will tell if multiple drugs are present, including fentanyl, he said.
A mobile crime scene unit was also on display. The units, including three in Bowling Green, assist in documenting evidence at the scene.
Historically, only police officers would apply for an open position for a crime scene technician, but within the past two years its been open up for civilians with degrees in forensic science, said BCI Special Agent Dan Boerner.
Cases aren’t solved in the 60 minutes seen on television shows. In fact, some are never solved.
Ohio presently has 160 active unsolved cases, with 20% in Northwest Ohio, said Roger Davis, BCI special agent in charge in the Special investigations and Criminal Intelligence Unit.
He gave as an example the death of 91-year-old Grace Kennedy, who on Dec. 23, 2009, was found in her bed in Bryan with injuries that indicated her death was a result of a homicide.
Another example given by Criminal Intelligence Analyst Lori Braunschweiger was Joann Jaso, who was last seen alive on Nov. 28, 1983, in Toledo. Her body was found on Dec. 31, 1983, in a ditch in Fulton County.
“There is no time or date stamp to it,” Davis said about cold cases.
“Our cold case perspective is not just homicides or missing persons. We are also following up on sexual assault cases … before the statute of limitations run out,” he said.
In 2020, the unit started dedicating personnel to solely work on these cases and take a multi-disciplinary team approach, Davis said, to go through each piece of evidence and look at it from a data and forensic viewpoint in order to apply everything that can be done to try to solve the case.
The hope is to mine data that previously wasn’t considered, or technology was unable to analyze.
Yost, a former prosecutor, was a proponent to the dedicated unit.
Braunschweiger looks at the minute details, such as old computer or cell phone data, old Ohio Bell phone bills or partial license plates. She uses data-based systems to try to identify locations and associates.
Davis said they have successfully utilized DNA genealogy data, such as what was done to catch the Golden State Killer.
“I don’t know what the future will hold in technology but much like these older cases, law enforcement didn’t know about DNA in the 1980s, but they were collecting items,” Davis said.
A cold case review is conducted once a week and the unit has closed 35 cases, he said.
“There’s no better feeling than giving that family some answers that they have not had for decades,” he said.