The ATF revealed its first mobile forensics lab last week at their Washington headquarters — a van equipped with technology from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.
The agency uses NIBIN to analyze ballistics evidence to match shell casings expelled at a crime scene to a firearm, but also to see if the gun is linked to other crimes.
The process for NIBIN is simple. A technician will test fire a crime gun, then analyze the shell casing and compare it to those recovered at a crime scene. If they match, it supports the claim that the gun was used in that crime.
But NIBIN also allows investigators to uncover forensic evidence linking a gun to other crimes. The system collects microscopic images of shell casings and analyzes the impression made by a firearm, since every firearm creates a unique mark like a fingerprint.
While the system has been left relatively unchanged since ATF established it in 1999, the technology has gotten better. To ensure accuracy, ATF scores nine data points by analyzing 2D and 3D images of a puncture mark on a casing along with firearm specifications.
It’s an invaluable tool that supports investigations of violent crime. Although there are three NIBIN labs across the country, the system has been underutilized by smaller police departments, which is why the NIBIN van exists.
Jim Ferguson, chief of the firearms operation division with ATF, told Guns.com the initiative is to support state and local departments by helping them collect and submit evidence into NIBIN’s database.
The van — equipped with the computerized system, a generator and a trailer containing the test firing apparatus — costs $293,000. If this project is a success, the ATF may roll out more units.