In addition, the “national” scope of NIBIN—like the scope of a national reference ballistic image database (RBID)—suggests an ease in requesting a search against the entire nation that is not the case under the current NIBIN search. “To perform a national search, the requestor must repeat the regional search for each NIBIN region”—12 separate searches—“as the system will not search all regions at once” (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, 2005:110).

About 25 of the NIBIN installations may be considered satellite sites in that they possess only one or more Rapid Brass Identification (RBI) units, portable units for acquiring images from cartridge evidence. These RBI units must be connected with another site’s full Remote Data Acquisition Station (RDAS) in order to transmit collected images to the regional server; “afterwards, the results are transmitted back through the RDAS unit to the RBI unit” (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, 2005:10). Some departments have experienced major problems with RBI units, including overheating and data transmission flaws; notably, the (non-NIBIN) Maryland RBID program ultimately returned the RBI it planned to use to permit the Baltimore Police Department to directly submit database entries after continued problems (Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division, 2003, 2004).

NIBIN sites are meant to provide regional access to ballistic imaging technology, and so individual law enforcement agencies within a region may partner with a NIBIN site to enter evidence as needed. Individual agencies in states with only one NIBIN installation (e.g., Iowa, Montana, and Wyoming) may route evidence through that site as they see fit. Several states have NIBIN sites at regional laboratories maintained by state police, which may be used by individual city departments, e.g., Virginia’s distribution of NIBIN equipment in three regional state labs. Even some major city police departments do not have their own NIBIN sites and work through state or county NIBIN sites, such as Chicago, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Memphis, and Seattle.

Prominent among the law enforcement agencies that are not NIBIN participants is the New York City Police Department (NYPD). While NYPD does follow NIBIN program protocols for the entry of ballistics evidence, the department purchased and maintains its own IBIS equipment; it has not linked directly to NIBIN due to the desire to maintain the integrity of its own database (McCarthy, 2004). However, NIBIN and NYPD continue to work on limited ties between the two databases (e.g., mounting archive data tapes off-site from NYPD for comparison under NIBIN).

Legal Limitations on NIBIN Content

ATF maintains tight control on the content of the NIBIN database, limiting it only to pieces of evidence recovered at crime scenes or test fired from weapons recovered by the police. This prohibition on the entry of

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