Gun crime technology expands at the BCA
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) bought four more National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) machines in addition to the one last year to help combat gun crime. Three of the new machines are stationed at the St. Paul headquarters while one is located at the Bemidji regional office.
The agency says in the last year, the NIBIN machines helped link hundreds of firearms to other crimes.
Steve Swenson, the BCA forensic science supervisor, explains that no two guns are alike. He says every time a gun is fired, it leaves a unique imprint on a bullet casing and those imprints are key to linking bullets to a gun or other crimes.
“Typically, we’re finding crime guns are used within the same state or the same region,” Swenson said. “Ultimately, our goal is to get these cartridge cases entered as quickly as possible so that when we get the hit reports, the correlation reports back, that we can provide that investigative lead information to officers.”
He adds that investigative leads can help with identifying or determining the different people who may be involved in the different shootings.
The technology takes images of the empty casings, which are sent to the NIBIN database where technicians conduct correlation reviews. Within 24 to 48 hours, law enforcement may be able to link one single weapon to other crimes.
“The ATF, Minneapolis Police Department and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office also have instruments like this,” Swenson said.
Earlier this month, using the same technology, a gun used to shoot a Minneapolis police officer was linked to “five different shootings in the Twin Cities area,” according to a federal affidavit, which led to four arrests.
“We’ve seen an increase in violent crime throughout the nation and so Minnesota is no different,” said Allison Hursh, the BCA’s assistant lab director.
Hursh said in the last year, the BCA completed 1,600 entries into the NIBIN system with a 20% hit rate.
“So, what that means is, it doesn’t necessarily solve 20% of the cases, but we are able to connect cases to one another,” Hursh explained.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), from 2015 to 2021, NIBIN entries in Minnesota went up 40%. Hursh says each bullet casing could be a life, so getting faster results is critical.
“Not only to get the violent offender off the street but to bring answers to their loved ones that are impacted by this tragic event,” Hursh said.
With the addition of the new NIBIN machines, the BCA is in the process of hiring technicians.