Ohio brings ballistics analysis in-house
The state is investing in systems to help forensic investigators more quickly determine whether a firearm may have been used in multiple shootings.
To speed investigation and resolution of gun crimes, Ohio is investing in forensic devices that help investigators compare microscopic markings on bullet casings recovered from a crime scene to images in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), a database created and maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
As part of the new Ohio Ballistics Testing Initiative, the state will increase the number of forensic units in Ohio from five to 16. Five will be placed at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI)’s state crime labs, and two portable units will test evidence on-site in underserved areas of the state, such as southeast Ohio’s Appalachian region. The Ohio State Highway Patrol, which currently outsources its ballistics testing, will begin testing its own evidence with two new NIBIN machines. As part of this initiative, OSHP will also accept firearm evidence from local agencies for testing free of charge.
With these additional systems, state firearms forensic scientists can decrease turnaround time on testing results, more quickly identifying whether a firearm had been used in multiple shootings and passing that information to law enforcement as an investigative lead.
To conduct the analysis, technicians insert cartridge casings into the machine, which displays images of marks from the firing pin and the breech face. The system searches the NIBIN database for similar characteristics and identifies “which items within the system it believes are the most closely related,” BCI Forensic Science Lab Technician Monica Coblentz said in a video.
At that point, firearms examiners compare the images themselves to confirm matches. Each match is verified by a second examiner before results are relayed to investigators, she said.
The initiative will provide more opportunities for law enforcement to submit firearm evidence for scientific analysis, while simultaneously delivering testing results faster.
“By more than doubling the number of NIBIN units in Ohio, we’ll give our local law enforcement partners easier access to this crime-solving technology to help develop investigative leads that result in arrests,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in the announcement. “With the help of this initiative, we are confident that more gunmen will be brought to justice, future shootings will be prevented, and lives will be saved."
“By bringing NIBIN technology in-house at the Ohio State Highway Patrol, we'll take some of the testing burden off other labs so that scientists can focus solely on local cases," Patrol Superintendent Col. Richard S. Fambro said. "We've had great success using NIBIN to connect illegally-possessed firearms found during our traffic stops to gun violence cases in communities throughout the state, and we expect more positive results when the initiative is fully underway."
The Ohio Ballistic Testing Initiative is funded through the American Recovery Plan Act, which is also being used to help local law enforcement agencies reduce violent crime, increase recruitment and eliminate testing backlogs at crime laboratories and coroners’ offices in the state, officials said.