“The whole point is to chop down the processing time and get out actionable intelligence to the troops,” Chicago Police Ccmmander Joseph Murphy, who runs an updated forensics lab, tells the Chicago Sun-Times. At the direction of police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, the city opened a ballistics lab last April as part of a new centralized forensics testing center that processes crime-scene photos for detectives and prosecutors, tests evidence for fingerprints and prepares evidence for DNA testing. Police spent $1.6 million in city funds and grants to open the ballistics lab with state-of-the-art equipment that's up to the standards of TV's “CSI,” though the cinder-block testing facility isn't Hollywood-slick.
In the past, Chicago Police would test-fire weapons in a leaky water tank and send the bullet cartridge to the state police crime lab for testing. Now police have a new tank and advanced computer systems that allow investigators to make their own images of the unique markings left on bullets and cartridges. Chicago police tested 6,631 guns last year and linked 96 violent crimes through firearms evidence. Guns are now tested in two or three days. “It could have been a year if not longer sometimes,” Murphy said of testing by Illinois State Police. “They were just overwhelmed.” (The state agency's average turnaround on gun testing is 350 days.) The Chicago lab has eliminated a testing backlog of 2,500 firearms.