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ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) was rolled out in June 2000 and currently provides Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) equipment to approximately 150 state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide.

IBIS equipment is used to compare images of marked cartridge cases found at crime scenes to ballistic images previously entered into the NIBIN database.

In 11 states, for example, there is no NIBIN terminal at all, and 19 states have only one or two terminals Even where terminals are in place, poor processes and lack of resources have led to crippling backlogs.

A 2013 report to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), for example, found that due to long processing delays, most of the violent crime cases analyzed for the study “were either [already] solved or slipping into the cold case file by the time the NIBIN hit report arrived.” For a NIBIN match to be useful, criminal investigators must generally receive the information within a few days or weeks, at most.

One reason gun crimes are so difficult to solve is that very little evidence is usually left behind at the scene, with the exception of spent cartridge cases that are expelled when a gun is fired.

Not surprisingly, cartridge cases are much more likely to be recovered at the scene of a shooting than the gun itself.

Kansas City, for example, uses NIBIN in conjunction with a sophisticated social network analyses as part of focused deterrence strategies that are designed to reduce gang and gun-related offences.

When a “match” (or “hit”) is found, firearms examiners are able to conclude that the same gun was used in both crimes.

Recovered crime guns are also test-fired and their ballistic images entered into the system, allowing law enforcement to determine whether those guns were used in other crimes.

A 2004 study of the Boston Police Department showed that the use of NIBIN “was associated with a more than sixfold increase in the monthly number of ballistics matches,” and that the technology allowed law enforcement to make matches that “would not have been possible using traditional ballistics methods.” A 2005 audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) confirmed that by “minimizing the amount of non-matching evidence that firearms examiners must inspect to identify a hit, the NIBIN program enables law enforcement agencies to discover links between crimes more quickly, and also to discover links that would not have been possible to find without the technology.” However, these results do not automatically translate into improved crime solving capacity.

The OIG report and more recent evaluations have found that, despite its crime solving potential, NIBIN is used very irregularly in the various jurisdictions where it has been deployed, leading to vastly different outcomes in terms of its usefulness to crime investigators.

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