PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is giving the Allegheny County Crime Lab a new, high-tech piece of equipment that will help investigators solve crimes involving guns.
It’s called NIBIN, which stands for the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.
The Crime Lab processes about 1,800 cases involving guns per year.
“The end game is to get those shooters off the street as quickly as possible,” says Sam Rabadi, Special Agent in Charge of Pennsylvania’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Division.
As part of the evidence from each case, scientists at the Crime Lab are presented with bullet casings that were recovered from the scene of the crime. Experts say the tiny striations and unique markings that were imprinted on each shell and bullet when they were discharged from the gun are the key to solving the cases.
“So, all of the imperfections and the unique individual characteristics are the same as the uniqueness of fingerprints. So the fingerprints on your hands and the fingerprints on the cartridge case, it’s basically the same thing,” says William Best, a scientist in the Firearms and Toolmarks section of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office Forensic Laboratory Division.
Bullets and casings fired from the same gun normally have similar markings.
“What the ballistics system does, it searches or correlates through all the different images that have been placed into the system, and a match is made between the two,” says Rabadi.
The NIBIN system works like this: Scientists use a firearm that has been recovered from a crime scene to fire a bullet into a special chamber. They use another machine to take several high-definition images of the casing. Some are even in 3D. Then, they compare the NIBIN image with what they see on the bullet when it’s under a microscope.
If NIBIN confirms a match, along with two scientists at the Crime Lab, then police can move forward with their investigation.
“It becomes a pointer system for them to look at a particular suspect – either the person that was caught with the firearm, or somebody that [they were] with who’s able to provide valuable information to the investigators,” says Rabadi.
The information is stored in the system to confirm other possible matches in the future. Investigators are constantly expanding the database and adding more information so it can be used in other cases.
“NIBIN doesn’t know who you are,” says Rabadi. “All it knows is, you are the shooter. And at the end of the day, the overarching goal of this ballistics imaging system is to identify those shooters and get them off the streets.”
The new, upgraded NIBIN technology is already in use at Allegheny County’s Crime Lab. Because it was a gift from Pennsylvania’s ATF Division, the upgrade will cost the county nothing.