long evidence acquisition times witnessed by the committee and attested to by examiners from local sites the committee visited or heard from during its deliberations. Acquiring an image of a bullet or cartridge casing using NIBIN’s automated microscope and digital imaging computer is estimated to take from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the quality of the evidence and the experience of the technician, but preparing the evidence for acquisition (test firing a confiscated weapon, for example, and filling out the required NIBIN and police department forms) and preparing the physical evidence for storage may add 10–45 minutes to the acquisition task. Some forensic laboratories told the committee that the use of their resources to clear up their DNA evidence backlog was more important than clearing out their ballistics evidence backlog.


Case Experience: “Hits of the Week”

Arguably the best metric of the actual performance of the NIBIN system is the number and quality of the investigative leads arising from NIBIN queries. The purest of these leads are those arising from “cold hits,” links suggested by the database search that might never have been detected were it not for the technology; statistics on these hits are systematically maintained by NIBIN managers. Yet it would also be beneficial to know of the usefulness of the system in confirming vague investigative connections, when a connection between cases is suspected but not yet confirmed; data on these “warm hits” are not regularly maintained, though NIBIN managers may glean some insight on their occurrence through discussions with local agencies. In both cases, a full evaluation of the program’s performance would consider what happens after a “hit” is made using NIBIN—whether the information leads to an arrest or a conviction and how large a role the ballistics evidence “hit” played in achieving those results. Those “post-hit” data are apparently not maintained in any systematic collection.

As it is said, the plural of anecdote is not data, yet anecdotal information is effectively all that is available in getting a sense of the operational utility of NIBIN in active criminal investigations. The NIBIN program compiles such programs in its “Hits of the Week” releases, which—together with news accounts of individual cases—are suggestive of some aspects of the program’s utility and ability to draw investigative connections in real cases.2 The “Hits of the Week” releases from January 2002 through October 2006 contain 188 paragraph-length summaries of cases in which NIBIN played


The NIBIN “Hits of the Week” archive is located at http://www.nibin.gov/nb_success.htm [11/1/06]. Postings on the site resumed in October 2006 after a 1-year absence.

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