Firearms ID Unit receives Award of Excellence from ATF

        Freeholders and members of the Firearm ID Unit accept an Award of Excellence from the ATF.
Freeholders and members of the Firearm ID Unit accept an Award of Excellence from the ATF.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders recently announced that the County Police Firearms ID Unit has been honored by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for its work in solving gun crimes.

The Firearms ID Unit received the Award of Excellence in recognition of its 200th match or “hit” on IBIS, the national system for tracking firearms used in crimes.

“Since it was established in 2003, our Firearms ID Unit has proved its worth time and again,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Mohamed S. Jalloh. “This well-deserved award is a testimony to the hard work and professional dedication of our firearms examination experts.”

The primary task of the Firearms ID Unit, also known as the Ballistics Unit, is to determine if a bullet, cartridge casing, or other ammunition component was fired from a specific gun.

The lynchpin of that process is IBIS, the Integrated Ballistic Identification System. IBIS is a national database of firearm evidence from crime scenes and crime guns using high definition 3D images that show the unique microscopic markings left on ammunition components when fired.

In contrast to combing through hundreds of local cases by hand, IBIS enables firearms examiners to gather evidence quickly. The 3D images are assigned a score using a mathematical algorithm to generate a list of correlating cases with scores that indicate “high confidence candidates,” from anywhere in the United States. Examiners then compare images to determine if there is a match, or “hit.”

Depending on the level of urgency and the type of analysis needed, the Firearms ID Unit can turn around a request for an examination within a matter of hours.

“Before 2003, there would be a delay of days, weeks, or even months while investigators waited for the results from an out-of-county lab,” said Union County Public Safety Director Andrew Moran. “Now with our fully equipped lab and trained personnel, we can provide timely information to our local investigators and to jurisdictions throughout New Jersey and the nation.”

Jalloh noted that the Firearms ID Unit is a shared service provided by Union County to local agencies in partnership with the ATF, which runs IBIS nationally and funds the Union County equipment.

The IBIS System in the Firearms ID Unit also serves as a portal to IBIS for jurisdictions throughout New Jersey and Connecticut, and Union County examiners provide forensic firearm examination services to all Union County law enforcement agencies and the Port Authority Police.

Presenting the award in Westfield recently, ATF Special Agent in Charge George P. Belsky Jr. thanked the Firearms ID Unit for its contributions to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, and thanked the Freeholder Board for its support.

“In addition to providing leads to investigators to help in solving gun crimes, NIBIN is a valuable tool for crime prevention,” said Agent Belsky. “It can provide intelligence that enables law enforcement to focus its resources to help prevent the next shooting.

Firearms Examiners undergo a four-year training program to be qualified as experts in the field and recognized by courts of law. Expertise in high-tech examinations including microscopic comparisons, operability studies on weapons, serial number restoration and the use of IBIS equipment are the core of the training program.

The Firearms ID Unit fields hundreds of requests for examinations each year, and one case in particular demonstrates the difference made by IBIS.

In February 2010, the Firearms ID Unit received a non-urgent examination request for a weapon recovered in Union. An operability study was performed on the weapon, and the test fired cartridge casings were later input into IBIS.

The subsequent correlation list put the Firearms ID Unit on high alert: The “high confidence candidates” pointed to evidence recovered from the scene of a notorious, unsolved road rage incident in another part of the state back in January 2010, in which a police officer was critically injured in a hail of bullets.

Firearms Examiners performed a microscopic comparison that ultimately confirmed the linkage within hours of the IBIS results, breathing new life into a case that had stalled out.

“Finding the needle in the haystack is an apt description for what our Firearms Examiners do with a combination of advanced technology, skill, and determination,” said Jalloh.

For more information about the Firearms ID Unit, visit ucnj.org.

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