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Criminal Justice Update

Crime-fighting muscle

Ohio law enforcement officers now have the benefit of expanded access to one of the nation’s most powerful tools for solving and preventing violent gun crimes: the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.

More commonly known as NIBIN, the database contains digital images of spent cartridge cases found at crime scenes or test-fired from confiscated weapons. Because all guns etch unique microscopic marks into the cartridge cases they eject, the database amounts to a vast library of ballistic “fingerprints.”

“When it comes to getting repeat violent criminals off the street, information is power,” Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Now, that power is accessible to a lot more agencies in Ohio.”

Run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and populated by local, state and federal agencies, NIBIN gives law enforcement the technology to determine whether ballistic evidence from any given gun crime might be linked to other gun crimes in the state and nation.

Last year, Yost announced that the Bureau of Criminal Investigation would be significantly increasing the number of NIBIN stations at BCI labs in Ohio. At the time, BCI operated a single NIBIN station, at its Richfield site.

By late spring or early summer, BCI will have five additional stations online — a second unit in Richfield and two new units each at BCI labs in London (Madison County) and Bowling Green (Wood County).
NIBIN access in Ohio isn’t limited to BCI; police agencies and crime labs in Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo have their own NIBIN stations. But for smaller agencies, especially rural agencies, access to NIBIN typically isn’t readily available. BCI’s NIBIN expansion will help their cause and generate more information for agencies across the country.

Besides adding more NIBIN stations, BCI has hired more scientists and technicians for the NIBIN labs and is working to develop a series of training videos for law enforcement. The first video —“Evidence Collection and Submission” — has been approved for .25 hours of continuing professional training (CPT) credit and is now available on OPOTA Online.

As part of the NIBIN expansion, Yost also announced a partnership with the ATF that will eventually shift some of the ballistic correlation work to the National NIBIN Correlation and Training Center (NNCTC) in Huntsville, Ala. 

In those cases, technicians at BCI will enter evidence into NIBIN and send the 3D digital  images electronically to NNCTC. The NIBIN software will automatically compare the images to those already stored in the database and generate a ranked list of possible matches. In most instances, auto-correlation is conducted at a regional level spanning numerous jurisdictions; when appropriate, though, it can be conducted nationally.

NNCTC will review the correlations and report on any potential leads to the submitting agency, often within hours of entry. When needed for court or other purposes, a BCI firearms examiner will conduct a microscopic examination of the actual physical evidence to confirm a NIBIN lead as a hit.

Besides speeding up turnaround time, the partnership with NNCTC will ultimately free up personnel and assets at BCI labs to handle more NIBIN evidence.

As powerful as NIBIN is, the database could be an even more formidable crime-fighting tool if all agencies made regular use of the system. To that end, NIBIN relies on the close coordination of its partner agencies at the local, state and federal levels to compile their data and share intelligence about violent crimes. According to the ATF, NIBIN’s success depends on four critical steps:
  • Comprehensive collection and entry: Partner agencies must collect and submit all evidence suitable for entry into NIBIN, regardless of the crime.
  • Timely turnaround: Violent crime investigations can go cold fast, so the goal is to enter evidence into NIBIN as quickly as possible to identify leads for investigators.
  • Investigative follow-up: Linking otherwise-unassociated crimes gives investigators a better chance to arrest shooters before they re-offend.
  • Feedback loop: Feedback from NIBIN partners improves the system’s efficiency and success.
In the end, NIBIN’s effectiveness depends on the legwork of law enforcement agencies on both the front end and back end: Agencies must first submit evidence for testing, then follow up on any resulting leads. Agencies needing help turning NIBIN leads into actionable intelligence can work with BCI’s NIBIN analysts to determine next steps.