A tool aimed at helping police connect shootings and identify perpetrators is parked on the Grand Strand and the technology could be targeted as a permanent fixture for the area.
After several days in the Upstate, one of two Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN, vans made its way to Myrtle Beach, where it and an attached trailer were stationed Wednesday morning. The vehicle has technology that takes 3D images of ballistic evidence and finds possible matches to evidence from other crime scenes. The ATF partners with police agencies that are able to use the technology, with the goal of solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms.
“This is a positive step for us,” Myrtle Beach Police Department Chief Amy Prock said, “not only because what it’s doing for our forensic evidence, but also because we want to have our own NIBIN system for the 15th Circuit.”
When a gun is fired, unique marks are left on the cartridge case. Similar to how a person’s fingerprints are unique, no two guns leave the same marks.
Cops can bring those cases to the van, where microscopic images are taken and uploaded before being correlated against a national database. Comparisons are done within the system, and any leads generated can be sent to the submitting agency within a day or two.
“We’re literally getting successes with this every day,” said Brian Mein, assistant special agent in charge for the ATF’s Charlotte Field Division.
The automated system saves police time, and the mobile units can prevent departments from having to drive long distances in order to use the technology.
“It’s a big deal for us,” said Lance Crick, acting U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina, “and I think it’s following the path of smart policing and introducing new technology into the process.”
Mein said the ATF is projecting to have around 96,000 leads generated from 490,000 acquisitions this year.
He stressed that the technology, which is over 99% accurate, is used for leads.
Ultimately, when a case heads to court, authorities still want to have forensic analysts pore over the relevant information to ensure accuracy.
While there are “many benefits to the technology,” Mein said one aspect law enforcement appreciates is that it’s unbiased.
“It’s scientific,” he said, and “data driven.”
“Traditionally, we would kind of investigate people and that’s how we would figure out where the firearms are,” Mein added. “And now what we’re doing is we’re actually investigating the firearms first and that’s leading us to the suspects.”
There are more than 200 NIBIN sites in the United States, and the ATF vans are typically used in areas such as Horry County that lack the permanent sites.
“The objective is to try to get those guns off the streets,” Crick said. “What we’re seeing though unfortunately is those same guns involved in multiple shootings.”
Officials said Wednesday that the NIBIN van will remain off Mr. Joe White Avenue near the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center for at least two weeks before it heads to the Charleston area.