SHSU researches lead effort to improve national ballistics network

Sam Houston State University researchers have identified techniques to strengthen the national database of forensic ballistic evidence used to link the use of guns in violent crimes.

A report released by the National Institute of Justice highlights recommendations from a study headed by SHSU associate professors William King and William Wells to strengthen the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network – a database maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

NIBIN is the only nationwide database that allows examination and comparisons of ballistic evidence during criminal cases. The system contains 150 local police departments and crime labs across the United States.

King, who was the lead investigator of the study, said in an interview with Today at Sam the program has “tremendous potential to help criminal investigators solve violent gun crimes and combat organized criminal groups.”

“Historically, NIBIN has suffered from a lack of funding and clear performance metrics that can be used to assess how well the program is working,” King said.

King said the ATF has already used suggestions from their study to improve the performance NIBIN network.

He said there is a wide fluctuation of performance across the board in the NIBIN sites, but specific labs including Houston and Santa Ana, Calif., police departments developed efficient techniques to assist in criminal cases, despite the number of gun cases processed each year.

The recommendations from the study to broaden the information on each “hit” report include geographic codes, criminal records and to create a measurement standard to log the number of hits and inputs to evaluate each local NIBIN site. King and the research team suggested the NIBIN should also be used as a tool to identify and counter gun crimes related to organized crime groups.

Eventually it would establish an ATF research and development program to increase timeliness of hits to the websites.

“The singular mission of NIBIN is to reduce firearm violence through aggressive investigation and prosecution of criminal shooters,” Ron Turk, ATF assistant director of field operations said in an interview with Today at Sam. “This NIJ report validates many of the changes ATF has implemented in the NIBIN program over the last year in an effort to achieve our mission.”

Researchers from Arizona State University, American University and the University of Cincinnati assisted King and Wells in their study.

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