Improvements to Federal Ballistics Agency Underway After NIJ Recommendations

The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which is run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), is a national database that holds forensic ballistics evidence related to gun-related violent crimes.

Although the NIBIN has been a valuable repository for law enforcement agencies, firearms examiners, and medical examiner officers across the United States for many years, a recent study by researchers at Sam Houston State University have uncovered a number of areas in need of improvement.

The report, which was recently released by the National Institute of Justice, has resulted in changes to NIBIN, the only national database that allows forensic scientists to compare ballistics evidence in criminal cases. Firearms examiners are able to compare tool marks on fired bullets found at crime scenes and compare them to the digital images within NIBIN, thereby assisting them in identifying a suspect or linking a firearm to a crime scene.

Dr. William King, of Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice and principal investigator of the study, said that “NIBIN has tremendous potential to help criminal investigators solve violent gun crimes…” But he also said that, thanks to a lack of funding and “clear performance metrics,” a clear assessment of the program is unable to be made.

Some of the findings of the report included that criminal investigators did not often use ballistic reports to link weapons to multiple crimes because the NIBIN reports were not accessible until after the investigation was over. The study found that, on average, NIBIN took 101 days to produce reports for the more than 150 local and state police agencies and crime labs across the country that use the system.

Recommendations in the report included the following:

  • Expand NIBIN searches to include geographic codes and criminal records data
  • Create standardized measures for evaluating the performance of NIBIN
  • Establish an ATF program to determine new practices for NIBIN, including a more streamlined approach to receiving reports