The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office and other local law enforcement will have access to a powerful federal system that will enhance the ability to investigate gun crimes.
On Wednesday, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, Chester County District Attorney Deborah Ryan, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Philadelphia Field Division Special Agent in Charge Eric DeGree, and Liberty Mid-Atlantic High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Deputy Director Brian Michael gathered to announce the counties have gained access to a federal National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) machine.
The NIBIN machine will be open to access by all four suburban Philadelphia counties. It will be based at the Montgomery County Detective Bureau’s Forensic Lab.
Officials said access to the powerful database will “dramatically upgrade law enforcement’s investigations, prosecutions and deterrence of gun crimes.”
“This is a game-changer in combating gun crimes and gun violence,” Steele told reporters.
The Montgomery County district attorney explained that access to the database will allow investigators to quickly use evidence gathered at the scene to determine if it is linked to other crimes and “disrupt the shooting cycle by these trigger pullers.”
Here’s how officials explained the system: “Each firearm leaves its own signature on bullet casings when a gun is fired—a unique set of scratches, grooves and/or dents—the NIBIN system can quickly compare these individual bullet casing ‘fingerprints’ against its six million fired cartridge casings database and create a list of high-probability matches. From there, those hits are confirmed by a firearms examiner and then become investigative leads for detectives to use. Detectives will systemically look at the NIBIN leads and evidence of each case to determine the connections and suspects.”
The ATF has been working for years to expand the NIBIN program and get more police departments involved. The federal law enforcement agency touts the NIBIN program as automating a process that investigators previously found “extremely labor intensive.”
As of November 2021, there are 250 active NIBIN machines across the county at local law enforcement agencies and eight more ATF-run sites, according to federal data.
In Pennsylvania, the state police run three systems at labs and Allegheny, Berks, and Philadelphia counties each have one.
“NIBIN sites help to combat violent crime, promote public and officer safety, and identify/target shooters before they can re-offend. Since ATF launched this national program in 1997, the NIBIN system has identified more than 722,000 NIBIN leads in the ongoing efforts to find serial shooters and stop the shooting cycle,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge DeGree.
A 2018 look at NIBIN by the Policing Project at NYU School of Law said there have been arguments against NIBIN from law enforcement agencies due to cost and competing technology. The report also noted there are questions as to how effective the system can be.
NIBIN machine is being funded by the Liberty Mid-Atlantic HIDTA, a federally-led multi-agency effort to cut drug trafficking. Guns crimes are often tied to drug trafficking.
“We are confident that the acquisition of the NIBIN system for this multi-county collaboration will succeed in accelerating investigative successes when gunfire breaks out and will lead to safer communities in Philadelphia and its suburbs,” said Michael, the deputy director of a HIDTA.
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