4
Current Ballistic Imaging Technology

“It has been common practice for firearms examiners to maintain an ‘open-case file’ of physical evidence from unsolved crimes, sorted by caliber,” Thompson et al. (2002:8) note of the traditional approach to generating investigative leads through firearms identification. “When faced with a crime on which little evidence was available, the examiner would then go to the storage area for evidence from unsolved cases and choose some potentially similar cases for examination of the originals.” This process can be extremely time consuming—not only the direct examination of evidence, but also the steps of retrieval, filing, and reporting. “Because of the time required for the manual comparison of evidence, the effectiveness of this method can be severely limited by the staffing and workload of an agency’s examiners (which determines how much time examiners have to search the open-case file).”

In this chapter, we briefly review the background of imaging technology in firearms identification (Section 4–A), the basic structure of Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) equipment (4–B), and the manner in which the IBIS equipment is used to acquire images (4–C). Section 4–D discusses what is publicly known about IBIS procedures for scoring, ranking, and analysis, crucial to assessing the technical capability of this technical platform to “scale up” to meet the demands of a much larger database. Section 4–E reviews the major studies that have been conducted to date on IBIS performance, particularly with large-scale databases or datasets consisting of test fires from new weapons. Section 4–F presents basic assessments of the current technology (specific recommendations related to IBIS usage are in Chapter 6). An appendix to the chapter, Section 4–G, summarizes and



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