ance below. As noted in Box 6-1, ATF reviewed a draft of the Inspector General’s audit and was asked for comment; the agency indicated partial or full concurrence with all 12 specific recommendations.


Suggesting operational enhancements to the NIBIN program is a complicated task due to the program’s very nature. At its root, NIBIN is a grant-in-aid program that makes ballistic imaging technology available to law enforcement agencies to an extent that would not be possible if departments had to acquire the necessary equipment on their own. However, although ATF provides the equipment, the state and local law enforcement agencies must supply the resources for entering exhibits and populating the database. Accordingly, the incentive structures are complex: promoting top-down efforts by NIBIN administration to stimulate NIBIN entry necessarily incurs costs by the local departments. So, too, does suggesting that local NIBIN partners make concerted outreach efforts to acquire and process evidence from other agencies in their areas. The benefits that may accrue can be great, providing the vital lead that may put criminals in jail or generating the spark that may solve cold cases. Yet those benefits are not guaranteed, and the empirical data needed to inform the tradeoffs—on the number and nature of queries or on the success of NIBIN in making “warm” hits where there is some (but perhaps weak) investigative reason to suggest links between incidents—are not collected.

Accordingly, our suggested operational enhancements follow two basic themes. First, the process for acquiring evidence should be improved and, when possible, streamlined in order to promote active participation by NIBIN partners and to make ballistic imaging competitive for scarce forensic laboratory resources with DNA and other types of analysis. Second, the NIBIN management must have the information and resources necessary to allocate and reallocate equipment to agencies in order to maximize system usage.

Priority of Entry

In suggesting ways to improve the entry of evidence, a natural place to start is to suggest a prioritization or a structure for entry: which types of ballistics evidence, generally or from specific types of crimes, should be given top priority in order to maximize chances of obtaining hits and generating leads? On this point, the current composition of the NIBIN database suggests preferences that have emerged among partner agencies: more cartridge casings are entered than bullets and, in both instances, exhibits from test firings of recovered weapons are more frequently entered than indi-

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