Webinar presenters Darryl Barr and Ron Nichols answered a number of your questions after their presentation, "Stop Cutting Off the Ends of the Ham: An Innovative Strategy for Managing Firearm-Related Casework." Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Have you seen an impact on the number of shootings and firearms-related homicides in Calgary since you started your program?
Darryl Barr: An impact on the number of shootings? I think at the beginning we saw a false increase in shootings that had nothing to do with what was actually going on, it had everything to do with what was finally being recorded and documented. So, when we started this process, for example, nobody really could tell us how many shootings or how many crime guns are being seized every year because it wasn't centralized and there was no way to track this stuff. So, in the beginning, it kind of look like we have a big increase in crime gun seizures and shootings but I think it was just a matter of we're starting to track this data. Now, in reality though as a matter of fact last year, I find that we'll get involved in large operations, particularly with organized crime or gangs shooting each other and of course we help them up with those through our analysis and at the end of a big investigation or project, when they actually put a bunch of people in jail and there was a noticeable decrease in shootings until they get out of jail again. So, I would say on a case by case basis, we did see an effect and it is pretty immediate.
Audience Question: About the Canadian ballistics network, when you enter a cartridge does it also search in the US NIBIN cases and vice versa?
Darryl Barr: We are connected to NIBIN and it is up to the agencies or the CIBIN users to run a search to the NIBIN region that they are interested in. So, we are connected and have that ability, and I believe it goes both ways.
Audience Question: Where do you recommend that we begin when establishing a program with people, process, or technology or all at the same time?
Ron Nichols: You’ve got to develop a strategy where you're addressing all three and one of the first steps is to get the stakeholders and clients together and start discussing an overall strategy and how this is going to be accomplished. It really does need all three and it is kind like, “Okay which leg of the stool am I going to put up first?” Basically, we have to come up with a plan where we know that all three are going to be put on. Generally, what I recommend is if you're in your regional laboratory, that you work with and you go ahead and have a plan in place but, you start small. So, as an example, one particular smaller state in the northeast started with one city and what they did is they refine their processes and people. So, they started with the technology and then refined processes, bringing in the right people. Then they can arrange to have a larger capacity intake. So, basically, you're going to need all three. You have to have a good strategy for how all three are going to happen and then once the technology is in place, you start modifying the processes and the people as necessary.
Audience Question: Based on your experience in staffing, what is the maximum number of cases a firearms examiner can realistically handle to achieve that 48-hour entry timeline?
Darryl Barr: That is a tough question. I think what Ron said about your processes if you're talking about the 48-hour timeline to get evidence in into IBIS and to issue these leads. Again, I don't think you'll necessarily need a firearm examiner to do it. You certainly don't need a firearm examiner to conduct the entire process. So, it's kind of hard to put a measure on but I think you can do all if not most of that analysis without a firearm examiner. Or if you need one, maybe just at some confirmation point at the end. I know for us we don't have a process such a linear process like that where a firearm examiner is responsible for the entire process, so it's really difficult to answer.
Ron Nichols: Typically, the agencies that have successfully implemented this have done so by getting and using technicians to do a lot of the NIBIN related work and they haven't been relying on firearm examiners to do that. If we're relying on firearm examiners, honestly firearm examiners can pull off the same thing. When firearm examiners typically get a case, they do everything scientifically possible to provide as much information as possible. This means rigorous inter-comparisons of cartridge cases and bullets from the same scene. This means evaluating guns for trigger pull and other assorted things that examiners typically do as a normal part of their casework. So, firearm examiners can streamline this too. By simply modifying the processes and procedures in place. So, as an example, if I were as a firearm examiner working for city police department, I could go down to the evidence room, pick up the shootings that occurred in the previous night, evaluate the cartridge cases for entry in the NIBIN. Put them in the NIBIN and run a correlation and do the correlation reviews. If they come back as a hit, notify the investigators but until they need something further with that specific evidence, I don't do it. And so, firearm examiners can pull it off too. It would be not a good use of that resource because technicians are lower costed and firearm examiners can be reserved for those responsibilities that will be needed when cases are going to court later on.
Audience Question: Which parts of a firearm you typically recommend for DNA swabbing and should be recovered shell casings cease log?
Darryl Barr: As far as the firearms, they are typically swabbing the areas that have rough surfaces or knurled surfaces such as grips, any grip-in areas in the slide and of course the trigger area or anything that has got more potential to sort of catch, sources of DNA.
We started by default, on DNA swabs from fired cartridge cases and we are still doing it. The reason for that is because previous to that our homicide unit, in particular, had some cases come back positive for DNA on fired cartridge cases, a very very small number. But once they experience the positive DNA swabbing of fired cartridge cases really hard to say if after that, well we're not going to do that because it doesn't happen very often. So, we're currently doing it and I can't tell you the results. I don't track that part of it, that is our crime scene unit. But I would suggest that anytime you implement something like that, something new, to track it and track the results and do it for a year or so, and as soon as you have some data, use that to make a decision on whether you should continue to do it or not.
Ron Nichols: Everything is a cost-benefit balance, and so can it be done for cartridge cases? It certainly can be. One of the concerns I have personally is that I have seen DNA recovered from a crime scene of a homicide and on which it was transferred to that crime scene by EMTs, who were taking care of an individual who was passed out drunk on the street and they transferred him to the hospital and that individual was transferred to that crime scene by the EMT who responded to the homicide. So, the issue is, yes, we can get that trace levels of DNA but it's kind of like Jurassic Park. Just because we can, should we? Because there are a whole new host of problems that are developed and my concern is that, who's DNA is that on the cartridge case? Is that the packer of the cartridge cases at the factory or who is it? So, yes it can be done. It's a cost-benefit as Daryl suggested. Obviously, if it has been found once, they want it done all the time just in case it happens and there is value to it, I'm not saying there's none. But it really has to be evaluated as a cost-benefit in the entire process.
Click here to watch a recording of "Stop Cutting Off the Ends of the Ham: An Innovative Strategy for Managing Firearm-Related Casework."