listic image databases operated by the states of Maryland and New York. NIBIN and the state databases are decidedly not directly connected—as described in the section, the systems are physically walled off from each other as well as being distinctly different in their definition and composition. However, they are based on the same technical platform, and lessons from observing the state databases in operation can also inform possible enhancements for the NIBIN program. We return to the NIBIN policy options in Chapter 6. As with Chapter 4, a summary and our conclusions on the evidence in this chapter are in Chapter 6.


Early Development

The program that evolved into NIBIN began in 1992 with the development by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) of the CEASEFIRE initiative, the objective of which was to “[enter] into a national computer system all data obtained from firearms seized as a result of a criminal investigation by ATF personnel” (NIBIN Program, 2001). Though oriented around a particular intervention by ATF personnel, the scope of the initiative was broader: “ATF intended to allow State and local law enforcement agencies to use and retrieve information for investigative purposes, and to submit information from their own firearms-related criminal investigations” (Thompson et al., 2002:10). Work on the database component developed in stages, beginning in 1993 with a partnering between the ATF National Laboratory Center in Ammendale, Maryland, and the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department. This initial pilot work made it possible “to evaluate the impact of operator variability on image quality and matching, networking limitations, and ease of operator use for data entry, as well as correlations and system maintenance” (Tontarski and Thompson, 1998:646). The program grew to include other regional affiliations between ATF laboratories and major state and local law enforcement agencies: partnerships emerged between the ATF Atlanta laboratory and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and between the ATF Walnut Creek, California, laboratory to the Oakland Police Department and Contra Costa County Sheriff’s laboratories. Also in 1993, the BULLETPROOF system—the bullets-only predecessor to IBIS (see Section 4–A)—was adopted as CEASEFIRE’s hardware and software platform.

In 1995, ATF developed a set of criteria for participation in CEASEFIRE by state and local law enforcement agencies, including the population and firearms-related crime rates of areas; ATF also considered “known firearms trafficking routes that cross jurisdictional lines” in selecting sites (NIBIN Program, 2001:6). Priority was given to agencies that had demonstrated

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