On Thursday, Southwest Virginia’s top federal prosecutor announced a new initiative to get violent offenders off the streets, using the investigative tool known as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN).
The national database contains images of about seven million fired cartridge casings collected at crime scenes.
Walter Dandridge Jr. is the supervisor for the National Laboratory NIBIN system. He says the powerful investigative tool can accurately compare casings to see if they were fired from the same weapon, making it easier to link firearms and suspects to multiple crimes.
On Thursday, a mobile NIBIN lab made a trip to the Star City, where local, state, and federal law enforcement announced the latest strategy to reduce violent crime.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Chris Kavanaugh promised to crack down on anyone who uses a firearm that’s been tracked in the NIBIN system.
“If you possess a firearm in connection with a federal offense and that firearm comes back to having been used in a shooting under NIBIN, we will accept that case for federal prosecution,” Kavanaugh said.
Although NIBIN has been around since the1990s, Kavanaugh says it’s not used enough.
“I was surprised and I was a little disappointed at just how infrequently or just how few chiefs and sheriffs in the Western District of Virginia consistently used the NIBIN program,” Kavanaugh said.
He says it’s due to a lack of access and resources. Not all departments can afford the equipment needed to take images of bullet casings and submit those images to the NIBIN system. Tracking down casings can also take more manpower that understaffed police departments might not have.
“It takes an effort from officers to respond to the scene, to locate where the shots were fired, to locate shell casings, to take those and then subsequently submit them to the NIBIN system,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh says there’s also a misconception that by using the NIBIN system, police have to give up the chance of finding DNA evidence, which he says isn’t the case.
Danville Police Chief Scott Booth says his department has successfully used the NIBIN system for years, even charging suspects thanks to data in the NIBIN system. He hopes to launch a NIBIN casing testing site in Danville by the end of the summer.
“Sometimes you can have a retaliatory nature to shootings, so the quicker you identify those firearms and those potential suspects, the quicker you can resolve those incidents and ultimately stop the violence,” Booth said.