Twin Cities get ATF evidence testing van temporarily amid case backlog
The van is expected to double processing speeds for ballistic evidence
By Mara H. Gottfried
ST. PAUL, Minn. — When there’s a shooting, even if witnesses aren’t talking to law enforcement, a gun and any other evidence left behind can tell part of the story.
The temporary addition of a National Integrated Ballistic Information Network mobile van in the Twin Cities will allow cartridge casings to be tested more quickly — potentially linking crime scenes and suspects, with the aim of solving gun crimes, said William McCrary, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ St. Paul field division, in a Thursday announcement.
He and others decided the extra help was needed amid a continuing increase in gun crimes. With more evidence to test, there’s been a backlog at the state to process casings.
“Law enforcement needs timely intel, timely clues and this is going to directly affect that,” McCrary said. Being able to connect shootings through ballistic evidence “can give investigators a better chance to identify and arrest shooters before they reoffend,” McCrary added.
HOW NIBIN WORKS
The ATF maintains and utilizes the NIBIN system, while also extending the resource to state, federal and local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. who enter their own ballistic evidence information into the system.
The technology compares images of submitted ballistics evidence from shooting scenes and from recovered firearms — looking at markings that are left behind on cartridge cases when a gun is fired — and provides law enforcement with leads on incidents that may be related.
There are currently three permanent NIBIN machines in Minnesota. Minneapolis police and the Hennepin County sheriff’s office each have one to process their evidence, and the machine at the BCA is used to process evidence from across the state.
McCrary said he requested the mobile NIBIN van from ATF headquarters. Law enforcement will be able to use the technology in the van, which will stay at BCA headquarters in St. Paul for a few months; it won’t travel to crime scenes.
“During this time when we’ve seen a significant increase in violent crime and gun-related crime across the Twin Cities, like we saw again this weekend, tools like this allow us to gain valuable information … to curb these crimes, hold perpetrators responsible,” said Drew Evans, BCA superintendent.
Seven people were shot and injured, several of them critically, at Minneapolis’ Boom Island Park on Monday night. Four people were shot and wounded near the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis the weekend before.
In St. Paul, there have been 1,241 reports of shots-fired this year without injuries, up more than 4 percent from the same period last year. There have been 136 people injured or killed by gunfire in St. Paul, a 26 percent increase from the same time last year, according to police department data.
There’s a backlog of evidence waiting to be tested at the BCA, but having another NIBIN machine means doubling the agency’s capacity for now, Evans said. For cases involving an immediate public threat, the BCA turns around cases in less than a day, according to an agency spokesperson.
The NIBIN machine on loan from the ATF will be available to an array of law enforcement agencies, and St. Paul police have already been busy entering evidence into it.
“Our goal is to turn around NIBIN leads to get the information back to the investigators within 24 to 48 hours,” McCrary said. “Basically, while the trail is still hot.”
The BCA is in the process of purchasing two more NIBIN machines; it will be about six months before they’re in place, Evans said.
They’re funded through a state allocation from the American Rescue Plan. Both machines cost about $270,000, though that doesn’t include the data connections and other expenses.
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