Webinar presenters Marisa McKeown and Ron Nichols answered a number of your questions after their presentation, NIBIN-Led Policing: A Prosecutor’s Perspective. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: If you would be willing to share a sample of that awesome spreadsheet that you showed about a half a dozen flight back and not necessarily the case-specific information, the kind of infrastructure of how you set that excel spreadsheet up.
Marisa McKeown: We won’t be able to share any case-specific info, but I would be more than happy to share the fields that we use so you can see what we included and also if people reach out to me via email, I’ll copy my lead analyst Heather Sarge(?) and Tony Larusso (?) the one we referenced earlier who’s one of our NIBIN analyst, who can explain why we included certain fields. Some of the most important fields are ones that I wouldn’t have anticipated early on. So it makes sense to include location information so that you can map it in programs that allow for spatial analysis. But one of the biggest things is whether or not there was a crime den recovery. If we’re looking backward at is this done in custody on a particular shooting, you need to be able to answer, “Is this a crime den recovery or is this just shell casing at this stage and the gun is at large?”
Audience Question: Why weren’t you able to call it a CJIC?
Marisa McKeown: That’s a totally local thing. In our county, CJIC is the acronym for our primary justice database. In our county when you say CJIC they think that you’re referring to our main justice database and it confuses them. We had to give it a different acronym.
Audience Comment: Bruce emailed in and wanted to share that his unit in Chattanooga, they have a great team that follows up on all leads and NIBIN is done in house with leads and his and are looked at immediately.
Audience Question: You mentioned that your organization was created in just kind of basically touch on it, just really super briefly. Can you explain how your department is formed? How you got people to do it?
Marisa McKeown: The current strategy unit was created by the Police Chiefs Association. I know that many people on the call are probably in a jurisdiction where the prosecutor’s office, either is created or has created some version of a crime strategy unit. This is a movement that started a few years ago nationally, and we are part of that. They’re popping up in prosecutor’s offices around the country but why we focused on crime gun intelligence so early on and how do that get going was very much because we had a lieutenant in our Bureau of Investigation who is just an awesome forward-thinker, systems-thinker and he observed this is a need in our jurisdiction. Our crime lab is phenomenal and we’re very lucky that they’ve been using NIBIN and IBIS for years. But probably like many of your jurisdiction we felt that it wasn’t being used in collaboration with the police in a way that was optimizing the tool. If they had a homicide and they got a gun and they wanted to check whether or not that gun and that particular shooting were linked, it would be used like that. But it wasn’t being used proactively and it wasn’t asking the question: “Can we develop intelligence from the lab itself?” And this is larger movement, so lab led intelligence is not new but it’s really something that requires an infrastructure to analyze the data. Have you ever met Pete Gagliardi or ever read any of his products or many other great people at ATF who have really encouraged this movement nationally for crime gun intelligence. It’s based on this concept that it’s not enough to just process the casing. it’s not enough to just work a single shooting. If you really want to optimize this practice of guns leading to intelligence-driven cases and prosecutions, you have to have it all integrated. Who are the people shooting the guns, who are the gang, where is it happening? No crime lab analyst can do that on their own, no detective in a gang department can do it own their own because they’re not making the linkages without everybody communicating with one another. So as we were looking at an intelligence-driven model in our county, we couldn’t ignore the fact that gun crime was the biggest issue we are facing and we couldn’t ignore the fact that one of our greatest assets was already in-built which was that ” Yeah we had a great lab!” and we also on our jurisdiction were very very lucky that this is a DA office run and funded crime lab. So we had a certain degree of control over making an application for additional firearm examiners from within the DA’s office. So, the natural marriage to say, “Hey, this isn’t a priority for us to address some crime in a proactive way, we need more people to do it, how many people, let’s talk about it, how many guns, let’s talk about it. ” But this was the natural place to go in our county if we’re going to do anything intel-driven, guns with our issue, we had an ability to impact it so we were like, let’s do it!
Audience Question: Do you track the difference between self -defense versus offensive incident?
Marisa McKeown: No, not through this program. Not really at the DA’s office. If there’s a true self-defense claim it would not be a filed criminal case but on the investigative side, whether or not the gun was used defensively would be extremely challenging if you don’t even know who used it and in our instance I’m sure- in most of the cases around the country, so many of these shootings are entirely unsolved. To the extent that you’ve solved it, like you’re at the 2-yard line, to the extent that you’ve identified a shooter and a motivation, you’re over the goal line. So that’s like really define the process, but no, we do not have that.
Audience Question: Ron, you talked about differentiating needs versus wants. So, I want more testing but do I really need more testing? Getting people in the system, to think differently and accept change and new processes like what you talked about can be really hard. How do we help people adapt and accept these new ways of doing things?
Ron Nichols: It can be difficult, and generally, the way that I’ve been successfully doing that is by sharing with individuals or showing trends of an agency that has a vision for a better future. Law enforcement agencies currently are fighting so hard simply to react to crime. So what I do is I highlight success stories of cities such as Cincinnati where they’ve actually reduced the number of shooting incidents from 1 quarter of 1 year to the same quarter of the following year and are responding to a crime problem. I also talk about all these strategies for crime labs. When I speak at seminars where I have a lot of forensic people in front of me, basically I’ve had to bring pictures of victims of crimes because we are so tied-in to the evidence and we get so focused on the evidence that we seem to forget that there are lives behind the evidence. And I think what has to happen is that we really have to look at compassion as a lifestyle instead of an event. We oftentimes will go to serve at various places like a homeless shelter at Thanksgiving or what have you. But if we start looking at compassion as a lifestyle, then we get more in touch with our communities and the fact that crimes not only have evidence, they have victims with faces. We don’t get disabled by what’s happening in our community, but we get motivated by what’s happening to try and get it to change through compassion. I appeal to the individual’s compassion and the desire to truly make a difference. I am tired of reacting to crimes. I want to do something about a crime problem and how we look at that, and how we address that sometimes that’s a better vision than simply… “Okay, I just need change.”
Audience Question: We know there’s a turnover issue and attrition problem and recruiting problem that a lot of law enforcement agencies are facing. What is the role of attrition and turn over and working gun crime cases? We hear these challenges in law enforcement. Is retention and turn over an issue for prosecutors as well as well as forensics analysts as well? How does this turn over affect our ability to be able to investigate gun crime efficiently and effectively?
Marisa McKeown: In my experience, the biggest issue where this really becomes a problem. I think the cops were working in an investigative capacity are going to be – let’s say there’s a homicide unit or the gang unit, that is a limited-term here. I’m sure it is in the departments across the country. Just about the time you start to realize what NIBIN is and how it can help you in your investigation, you’re out on patrol. So I’ve really tried to embrace this reality by acknowledging that if patrols have even had the general idea of what IBIS is and why it’s important when you give feedback. I promise that I would come back to feedback issue at some stage that I flagged early on presentation about our workflow. Feedback is critical and it is actually kind of responsive to what Ron was just talking about which is how do you get people to buy in and how do you combat this issue of attrition. Which is you tell the success stories every time they happen to many audiences as possible. You tell that success story about that little patrol cop who didn’t follow up on their search warrant that broke up on cartel case. You tell that to his patrol team who then tells it to their friends who tells them to their friends, who tells them to their friends who at some point when they’re working in the bureau they remember that if you see something, say something or reach out… and what’s that NIBIN thing? Every time I go and train cops I go I’m always like, “You may not remember exactly what I said to you but I want you to remember me.” I want you to remember that there was a unit out there that has to do with guns and if you have a case with a weird gun pinch where you just kind of suspect that they came from a shooting, do something about it. Reach out to the detective bureau. Where attrition has really impacted us and I think I alluded to it very early on in my presentation was there were all these cops who at the time they submitted the evidence they were really into that case. Even a week later, you move on to the next 3 shootings, right? So, you may not even check your email by the time you get an IBIS hit. One of the things that Pete Gagliardi really taught us in our county was “speed is crucial”. You got to give the lead to the investigator not only while he is still working in that unit, but while he’s still working on that case! So attrition generally is devastating to ongoing investigations which is why you need a unit whose job it is to bridge the divide that is bigger than a person and bigger than a single case. It is a system that will look at this issue and is not dependent on one cop or another or one lab tech or another. It is a system that ensures that every gun, every casing, every NIBIN lead every time is looked at and analyzed in case somebody changes assignment, someone is looking at it.
Ron Nichols: And from a forensic lab point of view, the issue of attrition is critical actually for the NIBIN technician positions. Oftentimes laboratories are hiring the wrong people. There’s a certain personality style that really embraces the job of the technician especially since we’re so computer-based. It is important and sometimes we have to violate our best common instincts whenever we’re interviewing people for positions as NIBIN technicians. We want all the self-starters and we want this type of person, we want a real go-getter, we want somebody who doesn’t need much in terms of supervision, those who can seek their training on their own. But, those individuals are also highly motivated to continue upward climb in whatever profession they’re choosing which means they end up leaving rather quickly. So what we have to do is when we’re interviewing individuals sometimes we have to target certain personality types and there are questions that you can ask in your interview that will actually identify which personality type an individual is and identify those individuals of certain personality type that we want for that position.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of NIBIN-Led Policing: A Prosecutor’s Perspective.