Tampa police launch new practices to solve crimes involving guns

Published Nov. 13, 2013

TAMPA — In an effort to solve more gun crimes, the Tampa Police Department will collect all shell casings that officers find on duty — even if they don't appear to be involved in a crime — and gather DNA and fingerprints from every gun confiscated as evidence.

The changes may seem subtle, but Tampa police Capt. David Goodman says they are likely to help police solve more crimes.

For example, when officers were called to a scene about "shots fired" in the past, and found no suspects or victims, they often would move along. They might have collected shell casings found in the area, but now they are sure to do so. And then send them to ballistics analysts at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

If those casings' unique imprints match those of casings at another crime — either in the past or in the future — police can look at the big picture, using information from both to help solve the crimes.

"I think we're going to increase our success rate with some of these crimes," Goodman said.

In another effort, which started several months ago, police are swabbing for DNA and dusting for fingerprints on every gun they take into evidence.

They still send each gun to the FDLE for ballistic testing. But the FDLE only takes those measures for guns used in violent crimes. Tampa police want DNA and fingerprint information for each gun confiscated — including firearms found at drug arrests or in the hands of felons, Goodman said.

The information could be useful if authorities ever connect one of those guns to a violent crime. Police potentially could have a suspect based on the DNA or fingerprint evidence.

Tampa police expect to process about 300 guns more each year under this new practice. They have hired an extra evidence technician to help.