Staff Cuts Curb Weapon “Fingerprint” Database Use


Arizona law enforcement agencies are struggling to take advantage of a high-tech, national gun “fingerprint” database that can link a single weapon to several crime scenes, offering detectives fresh leads to solve cases, reports the Arizona Republic. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) uses computers, microscopes, and digital cameras to catalog unique markings on shell casings and bullets and compare them for possible matches. A shortage of personnel and resources has stymied efforts in several Western states since the system began several years ago.

A NIBIN official based in Colorado Springs, Co., said many agencies face lean budgets and cutbacks as well as a growing shortage of qualified firearms examiners. Despite the challenges, the system has paid off for Mesa, the Arizona leader in “hits” using NIBIN technology. A .40-caliber handgun recovered at a crime scene this year was connected to eight other crimes, mostly drive-by shootings from 2004. Mesa’s numbers don’t approach Denver, which has had more than 300 hits, including 115 this year. The key is staffing and getting new information into the system quickly, said an agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which oversees the database.


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