Written by Doreen Jokerst & Maria
THE DECEMBER 2018 UPDATE of the International
Association of Property and Evidence (IAPE) Professional Standards discusses the National
Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and the importance of
addressing NIBIN recommendations when writing retention policies in your
property room. If you are tasked with the management and upkeep of a property
room, there are several questions you should ask yourself before considering
1) Do you have evidence or found-property firearms in
your property room?
2) Do you have fired cartridge cases in your property
room that have been submitted as evidence or found property?
3) Are any of these items collecting dust on your
4) Are you destroying firearms without test-firing them?
If the answer to any of these four questions are Yes, we
highly suggest you consider a NIBIN policy for your agency and develop NIBIN
procedures for your property room.
NIBIN is a national database managed and overseen by the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. There are 175 nationwide
NIBIN sites where trained personnel process firearms evidence. As of May 2018,
the ATF reported that NIBIN partners have processed 99,000 NIBIN leads and
110,000 NIBIN hits, with over 3.3 million cartridge cases in the system (ATF 2018).
NIBIN is the only national network that acts as a screening tool for firearms
and ballistic evidence to assist detectives with investigative leads in
criminal investigations and assist with strategic crime analysis (ATF Fact
NIBIN is an investigative tool that allows agencies to
share and search firearms evidence in their jurisdiction, in neighboring
jurisdictions, and nationwide (ibid.). Entering NIBIN evidence into the system
in a timely fashion may allow investigators to arrest a suspect before they
re-offend. In addition, NIBIN entry and adherence to agency policies also
prevent a violent crime from going cold by providing timely, relevant, and
actionable intelligence to investigators (ibid.). Across the country, police
agencies are reporting great results in using NIBIN to solve criminal cases
In our personal experience, and in speaking with many
highly qualified property and evidence technicians across the county, property-room
personnel may not have heard of NIBIN or may not be familiar with policies and
procedures that can assist their own agencies with meeting standards for NIBIN.
Many police agencies across the county are either not using NIBIN, or not using
it consistently (ibid.). In fact, New Jersey and Delaware are the only two
states that require that all cartridge cases get entered into the NIBIN system
Consider this: your property room impounds a found
property firearm. A kind citizen brings the firearm into your lobby and lets
you know they found it in the restroom of a local fast-food restaurant. An NCIC
query shows that the weapon is clear, with no record. After the specified
retention time to hold found property for your agency passes, and no one comes
to claim the firearm, the firearm is then staged for destruction and destroyed
by your department-authorized vendor. But what if this firearm was used in a
homicide in an outside jurisdiction? How would you ever know? Is it even
feasible to consider that you just did the unthinkable and destroyed homicide
To use NIBIN, technicians enter fired cartridge cases
that have been found on a crime scene or fired cartridge cases from test fires
of recovered firearms. Unique toolmarks on the fired cartridge case act as a
fingerprint. When a firearm is discharged, the firearm leaves unique markings
on the fired cartridge case, and—just like a fingerprint—no two firearms leave
the same marks (ATF 2018). According to the ATF, only firearm evidence and
fired cartridge cases related to a criminal investigation can be entered into
NIBIN (ATF Fact Sheet 2018). Most semi-automatic weapons are NIBIN-eligible,
some rifles and shotguns are eligible, but most if any revolvers are not. For
guidance or clarification, agencies should reach out to their state laboratory
for submission guidelines and best practices for packaging and submitting
Explaining how NIBIN works can be described with a
simple example. A crime scene investigator responds to a homicide scene in a
major metropolitan city. A victim has one penetrating gunshot wound to the
chest and there is one .45 caliber fired cartridge case on the scene with no
suspect in custody. The crime scene investigator collects the fired cartridge
case and submits it to the state lab to be entered into NIBIN.
The state laboratory enters the fired cartridge case
into the NIBIN system. The system compares individual markings on the fired
cartridge case to other previously submitted fired cartridge cases. The NIBIN
system generates an “unconfirmed hit”. A trained technician requests the
physical evidence and manually verifies the match with a comparison microspore
to “confirm” the hit. A report is generated, and the fired cartridge case
matches another fired cartridge case from a shooting the previous year, in the
same major metropolitan city. There was no suspect arrested. Investigators now
know that the same firearm was used on both shooting scenes.
Several weeks later, investigators in a neighboring
agency arrest a suspect in an armed robbery. The investigators find a .45
caliber, semi-automatic pistol in the suspect’s waistband. The firearm is
collected, and since this agency’s property and evidence room has a NIBIN
policy in place, the evidence firearm is sent to the state laboratory for test-firing.
The state laboratory test-fires the weapon and enters the fired cartridge case
into the NIBIN system. There is a “match” to the fired cartridge cases
submitted from the two shootings in the major metropolitan city. Detectives now
have an investigative lead, a homicide weapon, and a possible suspect! But what
if the neighboring agency did not have a NIBIN policy and the firearm was left
sitting on a shelf for months, years, or decades? What if the firearm was melted
down during their annual firearm destruction? How can your agency and property
room ensure they are never faced with this liability?
The authors suggest following these nine simple steps to
start the discussion on developing a NIBIN policy for your agency and property
1. Speak with your state lab or the agency that will be
processing NIBIN evidence. Ask them what firearms are eligible, what calendar
years apply, what submission guidelines are. Then, devise a plan on the best
way to streamline the evidence backlog.
2. Meet with your chain of command to discuss the need
3. Develop a spreadsheet of all firearms in your
property room to track action steps that need to be taken.
4. Decide who will forensically process the firearm and
who will make the decision for forensic processing, if it is needed. Does the
police department have the capabilities to process the firearm for latent
prints and DNA prior to sending it to the lab? If so, this will save the time
of the lab professionals and streamline the NIBIN entry.
5. Ensure the serial numbers have been cleared and speak
with the investigator to inquire if an ATF trace is needed.
6. Decide who will make the decision on what firearms
get sent. Do all fired cartridge cases, found property and evidence firearms,
and all staged-for-destruction firearms automatically get sent? Or is it the
decision of the investigator? Also, check with your state laboratory so you do
not inundate them with backlogged evidence.
7. Who will complete all the required paperwork—property
staff or the investigators?
8. Implement a reasonable timeframe for transporting the
firearms and firearm-related evidence to the state lab. The goal is to have the
evidence delivered and entered as quickly as possible.
9. Ensure reports received from the state laboratory are
forwarded to investigations in a timely fashion so that follow-up can be
As we have seen over the past decade, technology—as it
pertains to evidence—is becoming more innovative and changing at a rapid pace.
As property and evidence technicians, it is our responsibility to make sure we
are impounding and processing the evidence to reflect the change in modern
times. If you do not have a NIBIN policy in your agency, start the research and
generate the conversation with your chain of command. After all, you could be
unintentionally destroying valuable evidence in a criminal case.
Jokerst has over 20 years of law enforcement experience and currently
serves as the Chief of Police for the University of Colorado-Boulder. She holds
a master’s degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
She has successfully completed the Northwestern University School of Police
Staff and Command, the Senior Management Institute for Police course, and the
FBI National Academy.
Maria C. Pettolina has over a
decade of forensic experience and has worked for agencies in the states of
North Carolina and Colorado as a crime scene investigator and as a supervisor
for both crime scene and property and evidence. She is currently employed as a
forensic consultant and owner of Future Focus Forensics. Pettolina is a
doctoral candidate working towards her D.M. in Management and is published in
the field of forensics. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Criminal
Justice from LaSalle University and a M.S. in Forensic Medicine from
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. For the past seven years, Pettolina
has been the lead instructor for a forensics program at a university in
Colorado. She has over 1,200 hours of specialized forensic training and has been
introduced as an expert in numerous criminal trials. She is a Certified Senior
Crime Scene Analyst though the International Association of Identification. She
is also a national speaker on emotional wellness for forensic professionals.
ATF. 2018. National Integrated Ballistic Information
Network (NIBIN). Retrieved from https://www.atf.
ATF Fact Sheet. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/fact-sheet/fact-sheet-national-integrated-ballistic-information-network
Givens, A. 2018. A powerful database helps solve gun
crimes. Only two states require police to use it. The Trace. Retrieved
Note: This article previously appeared in Vol. 2019, No.
2 of The Evidence Log, the official publication of the International
Association for Property and Evidence, Inc.