Forensic laboratories are always trying to find faster ways to process evidence in the efforts to battle crime, including the examination and comparison of bullets and cartridge cases for support of police investigation and criminal prosecution.
With the development of technology in the forensic lab, one of the newer technologies in identifying links between separate crime scenes is the introduction of the automated ballistic identification systems. These are systems which take digital images of evidence samples and utilize algorithms to locate possible matches between evidence samples at completely separate crime scene locations, providing possible links to help with criminal investigations.
Automated ballistic identification systems are designed to scan bullets and cartridge cases, adding them to a database, and then be able to develop correlated searches for other samples in the database which could match the current test sample. These possible matches are referred to as unconfirmed hits until they have been directly compared by a trained firearms examiner to make a determination about the samples.
National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN)
NIBIN is a database of breech face images of cartridges that have been scanned by automated ballistic identification workstations. This database is maintained by the ATF (US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives). There are over 150 NIBIN sites used by federal, state, and local law enforcement throughout the United States.
Automated Ballistics Identification Scanning Systems
Automated Ballistics Identification Scanning Systems are scanning devices which generates digital images of bullets and cartridge cases for examination, comparison, and correlative searches within existing databases, like NIBIN. These workstations can execute matching algorithms to find unconfirmed hits which are presented in an order of the likeliness of a match. A hit is not a proven match between samples.
Confirming Matched Ballistics Evidence
A comparison microscope is used to compare the actual (physical) samples of the unconfirmed hit, obtained from police evidence files, to allow the examiner to make a determination if the samples match (or identify that there is insufficient information to make a determination). This result can then help police using these tools to determine if there are multiple crime scenes at which the same firearm may have been used, further aiding in their investigations and providing a link between the evidence samples that can also be used in court cases. Leeds’ firearm comparison microscopes are utilized as part of both examinations and confirmations made by examiners at numerous agencies sites across the United States. (Leeds Helping Police Prevent Violent Crimes Flyer)
The LCF3 firearms and tool marks comparison microscope’s design incorporates examiner feedback, focusing on image resolution, sample handling, ergonomics, and versatility. These design concepts provide examiners with features that can increase the rate at which examiners complete forensic examinations. This allows for faster actionable results such as helping move through case backlog or providing quicker hit confirmations from automated ballistics identification systems like Evofinder®.
As laboratories take advantage of the advances in technology and organizational structuring around the 48-hour confirmation response times from submission to confirmation, the importance of high-performance, workflow-oriented and reliable comparison systems become more pronounced (AFT’s video of NIBIN and Leeds’ LCF microscope working to solve violent crime in Jefferson Parish, LA).
If you would like to discuss comparison microscope options for your police department, or forensic lab, please contact Leeds or call 1-800-444-5333.