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A Unique Approach to a Crime Gun Intelligence Center with the Inclusion and Support of 3D Virtual Comparison Technologies

Event Dates
Event Duration
90 minutes

Any effective Crime Gun Intelligence Program relies on the expeditious processing of firearms-related evidence to achieve the goal of intelligence led firearms-based investigations. The possible intelligence gained through National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) leads loses value the longer it takes to identify the associations and pass that information on to investigators. In NIBIN processing, timeliness is crucial. As law enforcement agencies across the country begin to establish their own Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC) sites outside of the lab environment, many are faced with a recurring concern: how to implement a timely NIBIN process that coincides with the needs for DNA, latent prints, and further firearms processing by forensic scientists and meets prosecutorial needs for later adjudication. This presentation will discuss the challenges the presenters faced in making a department-wide cultural change in evidence handling and the partnerships required to implement new evidence screening and processing strategies in support of CGIC goals. To create the model currently in use, a strong working relationship was required between the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) CGIC and their Forensic Laboratory. This relationship not only shaped CGIC processing policies but has allowed the PPD to maintain and promote the capabilities of both bureaus to their customers.

For more than a decade, researchers (forensic, academic, and government) have been investigating the application of existing surface metrology and three-dimensional (3D) surface topographical microscopy methods within forensic firearms examination as it pertains to bullet and cartridge case comparison. These investigations have led to the incorporation of 3D topographical systems into the fields of both NIBIN and forensic firearms examination. While the 3D capabilities within NIBIN have increased the ability of CGIC analysts to resolve toolmarks while reviewing possible leads, this technology is currently only capable of being utilized for preliminary investigative purposes and cannot be used for lead confirmations. While these preliminary ballistic associations can provide valuable intelligence at the infancy of an investigation, further scientific analysis by the Firearms Section is necessary to meet prosecutorial needs in trial.

Over the past two years, the Firearms Section of the PPD Crime Laboratory has validated and implemented a 3D topographical Virtual Comparison Microscopy (VCM) system. The primary benefits of VCM are that it is less sensitive to lighting conditions and has an infinite depth of field when compared to traditional light comparison microscopy (LCM). Use of VCM has shown potential to allow the examiner to more completely evaluate a sample and the toolmarks it possesses. The VCM process will not replace LCM, rather it has been validated to be used jointly based on examiners’ needs. The addition of 3D VCM technology in the PPD laboratory as their newest tool to assist in forensic firearm/toolmark comparisons and the incorporation of 3D technologies into the NIBIN system has bolstered their ability to provide the best answers/results possible to their customers.

Detailed Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will learn about the structure of the Phoenix Police Department’s Crime Gun Intelligence Unit (CGIU) and their “outside of the lab” approach to firearm investigations by using NIBIN to provide investigators with real-time, actionable intelligence that assists in the arrest and prosecution of violent firearm offenders.
  2. Attendees will understand how a partnership between the CGIU and the Crime Laboratory was necessary for the creation of a collaborative approach to the processing and analysis of firearms evidence.
  3. Attendees will comprehend how 3D technologies can be used to advance NIBIN lead discovery and laboratory confirmation through virtual comparison microscopy.

Date Created: August 5, 2021