Local law enforcement agencies are relying on federal ballistics technology to combat the rise of gun violence in cities.
In Memphis, 2021 has been one of the deadliest years in recent history due to gun violence, with the first half of the year seeing the highest rise in gun-related crimes in six years. Gun-related homicides in the city also show a grim increase compared to previous years.
“I always say crime has no zip code. Now I’m saying gun violence has no zip code. It’s an epidemic in our community,” said Sarah Carpenter who lost her 17-year-old grandson to gun violence this year.
To combat gun crime, law enforcement agencies are relying on a federal ballistics database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (or NIBIN) established by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) in 1997.
NIBIN is the only database in the country that allows for detailed imaging and comparison of ballistic information to solve gun crimes, according to the ATF website.
Mickey French, a special agent with the ATF, explained how the technology is beneficial for gun crime investigations.
He told WREG that police take shell casings from crime scenes or recovered weapons and place them into a machine to get a high-definition image, which picks up microscopic markings. The image is then entered into NIBIN, which runs an analysis on the image and compares it with the database’s 4.5 million pieces of ballistic evidence to see if there’s a match.
ATF Intelligence Specialist Gregory Griffin said that every firearm produces a unique “fingerprint” on a shell casing after being fired. Therefore, separate gun crimes can be linked to the same weapon, narrowing down an investigation considerably.
According to ATF’s website, NIBIN has produced over 307,000 leads, or potential matches between pieces of evidence from different shootings.
“It’s a game changer. It’s a new tool that has come out in the last few years to where you can identify serial shooters and get them off the street,” Griffin said of the technology.
Before NIBIN, bullets were examined manually by a forensics team – a painstaking task. The technology can generate leads and get them to a detective in a fraction of the time. Results are generally ready in 48 hours.
Memphis Police Deputy Chief Samuel Hines said that the database has been helpful this year, generating 1,050 leads for the MPD and resulting in 52 arrests.
The MPD has also seized over 3,000 stolen or illegally-owned guns this year thanks to NIBIN, up 61% from 2020.
NIBIN is part of the ATF’s Gun Crime Intelligence Center (GCIC) operations, along with e-Trace, an internet software that tracks the purchase and history of firearms used in crimes. CGIC is a collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies to compile evidence on these databases.