Agencies dream of the resources seen on TV crime shows: the latest technology, gleaming, newly-built workspaces, and not a backlog in sight.
But building a crime gun intelligence initiative doesn’t mean new buildings. And it doesn’t have to mean breaking your departmental budget.
Join international firearms expert Ron Nichols, along with Pamela Hofsass of the Forensic Services Division of the Contra Cost County Sheriff’s Office, and Captain David Salazar of Milwaukee’s Intelligence Fusion Center for this free, sponsored workshop brought to the JCH community by Ultra Electronics Forensic Technology.
During this webinar you will learn:
- How the right mix of people, processes, and technology impacts an investigation,
- To identify the “gaps” in the investigative team and how to manage those gaps effectively,
- The steps involved in developing a gun intelligence initiative, and
- The best practices from lab and law enforcement personnel (local, county, federal).
(This interview has been lightly edited for length or clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is specifically about building a crime gun intelligence program. Tell us about the program(s) you are involved with or have previously been involved with.
Ron Nichols: I was a primary architect in the re-implementation of the NIBIN Program while employed with the Bureau of ATF. This included re-branding NIBIN from a laboratory, open case file used on the back end of firearm related casework to an investigatory tool capable of providing timely investigative intelligence within days if not hours of a shooting incident instead of the weeks to which investigators had become accustomed. With my expertise in accreditation and forensic laboratory operations I was able to help establish credible NIBIN sites in agencies in which they did not previously exist such as Milwaukee, Memphis, and Louisville. In addition, I provided assistance to many forensic laboratories in modifying processes and procedures to allow them to be more efficient and timely with respect to their NIBIN operations.
"…All agencies have to be invested
in the successful processing of the case."
JCH: What are the biggest or most significant challenges in managing a crime gun intelligence program? How have you overcome these challenges (or how have you seen these challenges overcome?)
Ron: One of the biggest challenges is agency turnover and shifting priorities among command staff as new staff comes in. Considering the variety of agencies that are involved in a comprehensive effort, this can be a significant obstacle in the on-going success of a crime gun intelligence program. A means of overcoming this is through the development of a business plan specifying overall direction and responsibilities related to the program.
JCH: How do you engage other agencies to ensure successful prosecution of gun crime cases?
Ron: It starts at the beginning with protecting the integrity of the evidence and ensuring that the prosecutor’s office is fully informed and buys into the value of the program. This will help reduce the number of needless examinations which can help facilitate the handling of firearm-related evidence while providing prosecutors with evidence not just of a single incident but, an on-going history of crime gun violence. In between the collection of that evidence and the prosecution of that case, all agencies have to be invested in the successful processing of the case. This occurs by helping them to see their inherent value in what they can bring to the table rather than making demands of them.
JCH: What have been the measurable results or “success stories” from your gun crime intelligence program?
Ron: I will mention one city in particular. The city has a population of approximately 655,000 and has a serious crime gun issue. They began their efforts in April of 2015. In one year, they entered 3,000 items into a ballistic intelligence network (NIBIN). 75% of that total had results returned within 72 hours and 95% within one week. As a result of 290 leads developed, they identified/arrested 112 individuals related to those shooting incidents. Another city claims a reduction in non-fatal shootings of 11% and a homicide reduction of 12.7% since 2015 and credits their CGIC operation for much of this reduction.
JCH: Many our members will likely not have a crime gun intelligence program for their agency. Putting an advisory “hat” on for the moment, how would you advise them to get started – especially if funding is limited?
Ron: Research successful programs and identify available resources. There is a National Resource & Technical Assistance Center for Improving Law Enforcement Investigations that is available to provide assistance in developing crime gun intelligence centers (crimegunintelcenters.org). Don’t assume that a wheel has to be re-invented. There are individuals who would welcome an opportunity to provide assistance. Also, recognizing that no two solutions will ever be the same, the initial effort should be kept small because changes and flexibility will be needed as adjustments are made to processes. Finally, be prepared to sacrifice and re-allocate existing resources to perform a pilot program. Far too much money has been wasted on good intentions that have fallen through. There is a parable of a good servant who was faithful in little things and was given far greater responsibility with the resources to carry it out. Once success is demonstrated funding tends to become more available.
"…Another city claims a reduction
in non-fatal shootings of 11%
and a homicide reduction of 12.7% since 2015"
JCH: What do you think the biggest “myths” or misunderstandings law enforcement agencies/forensics/prosecutors have surrounding gun crime intelligence programs?
Ron: One of the biggest myths surrounds the processing of evidence by forensic laboratories. Often times it is heard that accreditation does not allow for the processing of firearm-related evidence in the timely fashion required by crime gun intelligence centers. This is a myth because there are no ISO/IEC related minimum requirements that would be violated. These accreditation guidelines are designed to demonstrate that laboratories are following the practices that they have identified and the processes and technology are fit for purpose. Accredited laboratories have revised their processes and policies to allow for more efficient and effective processing of firearm related evidence and in doing so have not violated their accreditation status.
"…it is heard that accreditation does not allow
for the processing of firearm-related evidence
in the timely fashion required by crime gun intelligence centers.
This is a myth …"
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?
Ron: Excellence in the processing of firearm related evidence for the successful prosecution of shooters begins in the streets and, in every step of the process, whether it is the first responder being a little more careful at the scene, the police officer picking up cartridge cases from the scene of a reported shooting in which there was no suspect, the property technician handling the evidence, the forensic experts or the prosecuting attorneys, excellence is needed. Excellence begins with knowledge, not only with one’s own responsibilities but, knowledge of the roles of others as well. Helping communities become safer with crime gun intelligence centers is a cooperative effort. Everyone has a role to play.