UPI: "New crimebusting technology on the scene"


December 30, 2002, 12:09 PM
I really hate that dismissal, "Sure you can easily change the prints with a file, but criminals haven't done it in the past much." Well, duh, they didn't know they needed to do that. I wonder how much the practice will increase with all the publicity over ballistic snapshots.


New crimebusting technology on the scene

By Adrianna Borkowski
UPI Business Correpondent
From the Business & Economics Desk
Published 12/30/2002 10:43 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Trace the microscopic bumps and ridges that are burned and scraped into a criminal's discharged ammunition and you may have the key to unlocking a series of violent crimes.

That's what one of Forensics Technology Inc.'s products does.

The Montreal-based company's IBIS -- Integrated Ballistics Identification System -- decodes a gun's "DNA" from bullets and cartridge casings. The company was created when a Canadian law enforcement officer approached businessman Robert Walsh in 1990 with an idea for using machine vision in forensics.

"For me it was fascinating. It was something that had never been done before, and there was a definite confirmed problem in law enforcement -- the volume of evidence was too high, and they didn't have enough resources," said Walsh, president of FTI.

Within a year, Walsh created imaging machines and computers that captured the images of a bullet, translated the image into pixels and numbers and stored the information in a database.

"I found that unlike in the industrial sector, (the) law enforcement or forensic labs were an underserved market. People were certainly selling software, but for someone to go with an integrated approach to a specific problem, not many people were doing that," Walsh said.

FTI, a privately owned company since its 1992 incorporation, has grown quickly, from an initial three or four employees to 240 employees. They have been contracted in 29 countries including Colombia, Israel, South Africa and Russia and Algeria.

In 1997, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms used IBIS to examine 1,466 cartridge casings for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where matches confirmed that 18 firearms were used at the massacre at Ovcara, Croatia.

The company has averaged around 30-percent annual growth in the last few years, according to Vice President of Marketing Pete Gagliardi, who declined to give exact revenue figures, only saying sales were in the "multi-millions."

One of its biggest clients is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which administers 233 machines with 16 regional networking servers to form a system they call NIBIN -- National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network.

"NIBIN, using IBIS technology, is extremely effective," says the ATF's NIBIN Director Patty Galupo.

"The NIBIN program has proven to be an invaluable tool for law enforcement."

NIBN boards, made up of an ATF, FBI and local law enforcement official, oversee a search for matches or "hits" of bullet images. The results are brought to a forensic examiner for assessment. As of last June, the ATF reported 4,400 hits from its database of more than 800,000 images.

"We don't find the needle in a stack of hay, that's too easy. We find a needle in a stack of needles. A needle looks different than a piece of hay. But all these bullets look the same to the naked eye, if they're of the same caliber," said Gagliardi, adding every police jurisdiction has its own stack of needles.

NIBIN integrates IBIS with a former competitor's version of a similar program, called Drugfire by Mnemonics Systems Inc., which is being phased out.

Police departments that use IBIS praise it for helping them process large quantities of evidence with limited resources.

"It has enabled us to link cases which would otherwise not be linked," said Lt. Keith Glynn of the NYPD. "And it has prompted communication between investigative units, across geographical boundaries."

Glynn said IBIS helped match ammunition collected from separate crime scenes in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, which lead to one person being convicted of five killings.

The concept is similar to that of "ballistic fingerprinting," a controversial program that is already in place in New York and Maryland and that is being considered in New Jersey. Ballistic fingerprinting captures and stores images of spent ammunition before a gun is sent to the retailer.

Some organizations such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence advocate ballistic fingerprinting, but gun rights advocates are skeptical.

"We feel that law-abiding gun-owners should not be subjected to any inconvenience. All law enforcement should be focused on criminals," said spokesman Andrew Arulanandam of the National Rifle Association.

Many also question the effectiveness of ballistic fingerprinting, saying criminals can scrape a gun barrel with a pin or nail file, or change the barrel or firing pin.

"Ballistic abrasion patterns can be changed, modified, or replaced, and deformed from normal wear and tear within the time it takes someone to drink a cup of coffee," said Arulanandam.

But Glynn insists the practice is not yet that common according to his experience in New York.

And although ballistic fingerprinting only leads to a gun's first owner and not necessarily the criminal -- another shortfall that critics point out -- Glynn said police are happy to have a starting point.

Copyright © 2002 United Press International

If you enjoyed reading about "UPI: "New crimebusting technology on the scene"" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
If you enjoyed reading about "UPI: "New crimebusting technology on the scene"" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!