A database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), contains high-resolution images of almost 3 million casings police have collected from crime scenes or test-fired from guns used in crimes since 1999. The software reads unique markings that guns leave on shell casings and then flags potential matches, signaling when the same gun may have been used in more than one shooting, reports the Marshall Project and the Washington Post. Ambitions of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for NIBIN far outstrip its accomplishments. Since the program began two decades ago, more than $300 million has been invested in it. Yet only a few hundred of the nation’s 18,000 police departments use it. Eleven states have no NIBIN terminal, where images of the casings are loaded into the database and matched. Nineteen states, plus Washington, D.C., have only one or two terminals.
Even among departments that use the system, only a handful have been using it the way ATF intends. NIBIN has been hobbled by years of inattention inside ATF, say more than two dozen current and former NIBIN officials and law enforcement agents. Because the technology requires a considerable commitment of personnel and money, many departments have adopted it in a scattershot way: They enter shell casings inconsistently and fail to follow up on leads. John Risenhoover, the former NIBIN national coordinator for ATF, retired last year in part because the agency’s commitment to the program has been inconsistent. “If you initiate it and operate it in a real-time manner, it’s phenomenal,” he said. “But NIBIN to this point was a huge waste of cash.” The Police Executive Research Forum is studying NIBIN programs in Denver, Milwaukee and Chicago, among the most widely lauded. The findings have been far from clear. “Most departments, including those we are working with, have not comprehensively implemented the model,” PERF said.