Los Angeles Police Department officer Richard Smith sees what others miss and has come to be “a one-man weapon against crime,” says the Los Angeles Times. Today, as they do every Wednesday, detectives can cut through what used to be a wall of red tape to get to Smith, the top technician in the police department firearms analysis unit.
The Times says that detectives drive across town with bits of crime scene debris in manila envelopes to a dark, low-ceiling room where Smith sits before a computer terminal. They hope the random bits of metal left by gunfire will produce “a cold hit” – a match to some other crime or weapon that might break a case.
“Walk-in Wednesdays” started as the LAPD’s answer to a crushing backlog of firearms crimes. By allowing detectives to skirt a formal priority system one day a week for fast answers on any caset, a rapid increase in the number of cold hits has not only helped solve recent crimes, it has yielded surprising revelations about the way crime guns move around. It has demonstrated ways of using new digital technology and a national database on crime guns.
The most important lesson may be that the technology is useless without the right craftsman – a fact no one embodies more than Smith, whose uncanny ability to glean evidence from cartridge casings and shards of bullets has driven the lab’s recent success. Smith, 46, is so unassuming that “when you first meet him, you almost have to kick him to see if he will talk,” said a longtime acquaintance.