Applying Business Systems to Evidence Processing: An Interview with Milwaukee PD’s Captain David Salazar

Milwaukee

 

Business principles don't always "neatly" apply to government agencies for a variety of reasons. 

However, when they can be applied, amazing results and dividends can be accomplished.

As part of our exploration of "Establishing Crime Gun Intelligence Programs," we spoke with Milwaukee Police Department's Dave Salazar to learn more about this innovative program.

 

 

Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Dave share with us about the Crime Gun Intelligence programs that you’re involved with?

David Salazar: We created our Crime Gun Intelligence Center back in October 2014, basically starting out very meagerly with a few technicians, not really knowing what we were getting into.

It has quickly grown to be one of the most productive NIBIN sites in the country. So we accidentally stepped into the NIBIN program without enough planning. So the purpose of the webinar was to share that experience of “standing something up” correctly and not making the same mistakes we did.

We’d like everybody and anybody who’s going to try to take this on to use our experiences.

 

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Milwaukee went from 686 test fires in 2015, to more than 1400 in 2016.

The department went from testing 33% of all crime guns taken off the street 2015,

to 70% in 2016.

As of June 2017, the department is now testing 113%

due to its ability to complete testing for other agencies.

 

Milwaukee Police Department Data

~~~~~

 

JCH: So you’ve mentioned challenges when you were getting started up. What were some of the biggest or most significant challenges in terms of starting that program — and then managing it on an ongoing basis?

Forensic Scientists Photo Credit: Monty Rakusen / Cultura / Getty Images via TheBalance.com

David: The biggest challenge was not having the necessary partnerships upfront. The biggest challenge or the biggest part that we needed to have on board was our state crime lab who was initially adamantly opposed to a local PD utilizing NIBIN. And part of that was more of a territorial type of, I don’t want to say a dispute, but philosophy at the time that the crime lab’s leaderships purely looked at NIBIN as a forensic tool and hadn’t really given any thought that NIBIN can be used as a real-time investigative technique that can be a force multiplier for investigators.

Their attitude at the time was basically “put the thing back in the box and stay out of the forensic world.” It was only after several meetings and discussions that they began to understand where we wanted to take this and why we needed to do this. So after they realized we had no intentions of becoming a crime lab or really overwhelming them with NIBIN hits, that all we wanted to do was sort through them and determine what was linked at more of a probable-cause level and that we would only send them trial cases for confirmation that they became a little bit more amenable.

So once we described our vision for the program and how we would actually implement the program, they became a lot more cooperative. And now, today, The Crime Lab is a tremendous partner.  The Crime Lab supervisor that we work with on a regular basis has been a tremendous partner. He has actually completely bought into the real-time use of NIBIN — so much so that he has started his own program and done some hires. He is now acting as a regional NIBIN site where he’s taking in all of our suburban crime, and we’re seeing more correlations with our city crime hitting off the suburban crime, which is good. We used to watch the news, see a shooting event in a neighboring city and we’d have to call and say, “Hey could you bring your casings or your crime gun to our city so we can test it?” because the crime lab just didn’t have the capacity. Now that they’ve built their capacity, we’re seeing many more opportunities to hold offenders accountable and make linkages that we never were before.

 

~~~~~

"We took a page out of the book of private business

on how a manufacturer works

and tried to apply those concepts to what we were doing here in the lab and it really paid off."

 

Captain David Salazar

~~~~~

 

JCH: So you mentioned being able to solve more crime and to be able to make more linkages… Can you share some of those results? What do those statistics look like?

Photo Credit: New Mexico Department of Public Safety.

David: In 2015, we did 686 test fires, which is just about 120 short that Denver did. (Denver is really the gold standard that we look at.)

So we made some modifications to our program in 2016. We refined how we move evidence through the police department to streamline things. We built a shoot room actually in the same building where our NIBIN lab is so it would cut down on a lot of time. We changed some paperwork processing so we could be entering information into a database that would share our NIBIN reports, our RMS system, and then put our evidence management system all into one area. So no matter where the tech was in the process, he could immediately access the data. So that cut down a whole bunch of time, and we went from 686 guns to over 1400 guns tested the next year (2016).

We went from basically testing 33% of all crime guns that we took off the street, in 2015. When we got the ability to test fire, we went up to 70% in 2016, because of those modifications to our system.

So being really critical about how you move evidence, where things go, and who gets their hands on them really can help you reduce the time that it takes to get these things done. It allows you to test fire a lot more of the critical evidence.

The test fires are really important because many times those crime guns are connected to an arrest. So if you know what the gun did and you have an arrest, that means you have an opportunity to conduct an interview and interrogate that suspect and possibly bring closure to other cases.

So we further looked at what we had to do and we added a little bit more capacity. We brought a person down so that we can do NIBIN 16-hours a day: we have day shift of NIBIN technicians and then we have an early shift technician. That allows me to do 16 hours of NIBIN, as opposed to 8 hours in your typical lab-type setting. So we were able to hit 100% crime gun testing as of February of this year. So that’s a huge feat for us.We’re really proud of that.

We’re actually at about 113% currently (June 2017) this year for our crime gun recoveries.  How can we be testing more crime guns? It’s because we have some federal partnerships and we’re taking their guns in and doing their test fires.

 

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"The more you put into [NIBIN],

the more you get out of it."

 

Captain David Salazar

~~~~~

 

 

JCH: So it sounds like you really took a systems approach at looking at process flows and the supply chain of moving the evidence through the process.

David: Pretty much. We took a page out of the book of private business on how a manufacturer works and tried to apply those concepts to what we were doing here in the lab and it really paid off.

 

 

JCH: You touched on having to work with other organizations if you were thinking about this from another police department’s perspective, and they’re just getting started, what would your advice be in terms of how to overcome those misconceptions or how to overcome those challenges with other organizations?

David: The big thing would be to identify all your partners that could conceivably have an impact on the program that you’re debating whether you’re going to start.

So one of the key components is going to be your prosecutors. You don’t want to be doing something they’re totally uncomfortable with and jeopardizes a criminal case. You want to make sure that they’re fully briefed and have a thorough understanding of how this will be used so it won’t impede the prosecution and cause any problems later down the line.

If you have your own NIBIN then that’s great because you can leverage it. But if you intend to utilize more of a regional aspect where you’re using another agency or you’re using a crime lab, obviously you have to get them on board with the idea that you’re going to be utilizing this to move investigations along as quickly as investigations move as opposed to typical forensics which takes a lot longer. And that’s for a variety of reasons: you need to move as fast as the investigation. Sometimes, or most times now, at least in urban areas, by the time you get the official lab results, you could be 5, 6, 10 shootings later, so…you don’t even have the time to go back to that. So getting [the results] within 36 hours, 72 hours is really important.

 

 

JCH: So now that you’ve got everything up and running, over 100%, what are your challenges now managing the center?

NIBIN Processing Photo Credit: Mark Makela via The Marshall Project

David: The challenge with NIBIN is the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. So you’re able to push all this data in, now you get a lot more data out. So now you have a lot more crime gun intelligence to vet, sort through, triage, and then follow up on.

So as our production increased so did the need to be able to quickly review reports, triage them and really make a determination what’s important, what could be important, what is going to be investigated at a district level and then what is, I wouldn’t say unimportant, but only is really good as situational awareness for the officers in the street. More of an FYI because there isn’t any active follow-up that needs to be done.

So what we decided to do is over time, we created a four-tier priority system. So we have our CGIC leads: these are homicides, your armed robbery shootings, task force targets that are connected to a firearm event, those are high priority ones.

Then there are cases that are not homicides necessarily: they can be non-fatal shootings. Those have some type of solvability factors to them where they’re linked to other cases. Those are investigative level, so that would be caught by a detective that would be expected to follow up on those.

And then there are District-level cases where people aren’t being shot. It might be a house that was shot up. There’s some type of follow-up that could be done to bring it to closure. That’s going to be at a district level.

The lowest level is our green notification which is our situational awareness. We don’t want to ever hold any information back [from our team.] We know that there are times that we may uncover some linkages … there’s really no witnesses that can help us solve the case, but the occasional beat man or squad man might have some neighborhood knowledge that might say, “I know that shooting, that’s about these two guys.” So that’s more old school intelligence ways to get that out there and let the field officer contribute.

 

 

JCH: What do you think some of the biggest myths or misunderstandings law enforcement agencies, forensics organizations, or prosecutors have around gun crime intelligence programs? What advice would you have regarding ways to rethink or dispel some of these myths?

David: Some of the problems that we have encountered with forensics or with lab directors was that there was a belief that we were going to send every single NIBIN hit to them for confirmation — which would completely overwhelm them. It’s a much more thorough and long process to confirm the hit with a firearms examiner.

In a state like Wisconsin, we only had one examiner. Now we have two for the whole state of 5 million people. To send them 800 NIBIN hits in a year would overwhelm them. So we understood that and what we came to agreement with our prosecutor, the police department, and with the lab director was we would only bring NIBIN hits that are really needed to be confirmed — those would be cases that the DA would want to utilize the examiner at the trial to say to a scientific certainty there was a correlation.

In those cases, that’s going to be a very small percentage of the cases that were actually identified because not all cases go to trial. So once our lab director was aware of that, they became much more agreeable. Because before that, anything that we thought was linked we had to send to an examiner and so it’s actually made their workload a lot smaller. Once they realized that’s how we intended to leverage it, they were a lot more amenable to working with us and actually they became very strong partners.

 

JCH: Many of our members will likely not have a crime gun intelligence program for their agency. Putting your advisory hat for a moment, how would you advise them to get started, particularly if funding is limited?

David: Depending on what your area looks like, if you are able to develop more of a task force operation where you’re drawing from several different agencies to set up this intelligence center that can contribute to various communities in a small region, you can spread out that cost across agencies. [You can also] try to look for places that already have some pieces of the puzzle if you’re in an area [for example] where you have an agency that is strong and engaging them to help with the analysis portion. If you have an agency that has actually a lab, they would be a key contributor to that technology.

The other option is if you don’t have any of those pieces in place or they’re scattered or the taskforce really isn’t possible, then you have to look at the opportunities of convincing your boss to invest in the technology. If that’s not possible then you’re going to have to start searching for grant opportunities to try to fund these types of initiatives.

 

JCH:  Is there anything that I missed that you thought might be important that you want to include in the discussion?

David: The only other thing I’d like to say is whenever we talk about the program we always like to give credit to the Denver Police Department who we sat down with months before we set up ours and we learned a lot of good lessons and we’re able to apply them. So definitely part of our success is due to the willingness of Denver's police department to allow us to come visit their program and learn as much as possible.

 

Learn more about Establishing a Crime Gun Intelligence Program for your Agency or Region.

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