The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí
National Integrated Ballistic Information Network Program

Audit Report 05-30
June 2005
Office of the Inspector General


Appendix XV

ATF’S Response to the Draft Audit Report


  U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Office of the Director
Washington, DC 20226

JUN 10 2005


MEMORANDUM TO: Assistant Inspector General for Audit
 
FROM: Director
 
SUBJECT: Response to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Draft Audit Report: Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) Program

 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the recommendations from the OIG’s above-cited draft report. Although we were previously aware of and acting to improve many areas included in your findings, we welcome constructive criticism of our programs as this independent evaluation process typically helps us improve our ability to effectively plan and manage our resources more efficiently.

The NIBIN Program has experienced exponential growth since its inception in 1999. The deployment of a nationwide network of Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) technology to over 236 law enforcement laboratories within every U.S. state and territory was a monumental achievement. The success of this deployment is a testament to the cooperation and partnership forged between ATF and participating law enforcement agencies. Although it is impossible to provide IBIS technology and equipment to every single U.S. law enforcement agency, each and every domestic law enforcement agency has access to the system through one of NIBIN's State and local partners.

Since ATF and its partner agencies began using this technology, over 846,000 pieces of crime scene evidence have been entered and over 2 1,000 ballistic links resulting in 10,846 hits (minimum 2 cases to make one hit) have been made. The success of the program is best judged by law enforcement agencies that have closed years-old cold cases via the NIBIN Program.

Within the Summary of this report, the basis used to identify an independent law enforcement agency or a division of a law enforcement agency was the Originating Agency Reporting Identifier (ORI) number. ATF believes that it is misleading to use the number of ORIs as the statistical basis to evaluate technology allocation, program utilization, and performance because one single agency can have numerous ORIs assigned to it. By way of example, ATF alone has over 362 ORIs or about fifteen per field division. Similarly, many of the larger NIBIN State and local law enforcement partners have multiple ORIs within an agency, and all local law enforcement jurisdictions have at least one ORI number, regardless of size.

In general, ATF concurs with the findings and recommendations of your report and will address each recommendation in a corrective actions report.

Our responses to your recommendations are as follows:

  1. Determine whether additional IBIS equipment should be purchased and deployed to high-usage non-partner agencies, or whether equipment should be redistributed from the low-usage partner agencies to high usage non-partner agencies.

ATF concurs with this recommendation, with comment.

The NIBIN Program Office is aware of non-partner agencies that submit a high volume of ballistic evidence for entry into IBIS. Whether these agencies should receive IBIS equipment based on the volume of entries is an issue that must be carefully considered. Numerous agencies identified as non-partner, high-usage agencies do not have forensic laboratories and/or the necessary staff that can support deployment of the IBIS equipment. One of the main criteria for deployment of a Data Acquisition Station Remote (DAS/R) is the need for the agency to have a firearms examiner on staff to review and confirm potential "hits." Therefore, sheer volume of ballistic evidence submissions for NIBIN entry cannot be the sole reason for deploying this equipment to an agency. Further, some states have laboratory systems that support all law enforcement agencies with forensic evidence. For instance, the Commonwealth of Virginia has the Virginia Division of Forensic Science (VDFS) Laboratory system consisting of five laboratories located strategically throughout the state. One of the non-partner, high usage agencies you cite in your report, the Richmond Police Department, submits their ballistic evidence to the VDFS laboratory located in Richmond , Virginia . This procedure is by agreement of the two agencies and the Richmond Police Department. Further, without increased funding, the NIBIN Branch cannot purchase additional equipment to deploy to more agencies that have requested participation in the Program.

The issue of redistributing IBIS equipment from low-usage partner agencies is being addressed by the NIBIN Program Office. Policies are in place to address low usage and we are making notifications to agencies that fall below the monthly usage standards. Site visits have been or are being made to some agencies to address the issue face-to-face with laboratory management to determine whether the equipment should remain or redeployment to another requesting agency should be made. Two IBIS units that were not being utilized have been redeployed to approved agencies. We will continue to monitor low-usage sites and make determinations as to whether the equipment should remain. Consideration must be given to the availability of IBIS technology to law enforcement agencies that reside in regions that historically have low usage based on the amount of firearms crimes.

  1. Provide additional guidance, training, or assistance to the partner agencies that indicated they did not perform regional or nationwide searches because they either lacked an understanding of the process or lacked manpower to perform such searches.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

During the IBIS equipment deployment period of April 200 1 through October 2003, ATF provided training, at no cost, to law enforcement sites receiving equipment. A segment of student training included proper procedures for conducting database searches. The NIBIN Program personnel also provided presentations on IBIS capabilities through venues such as regional NIBIN User Conferences and other professional meetings. ATF currently sponsors 10 user-training sessions per year, with regional and national searches as part of the core curriculum. In addition, a Help function is available in the system, providing users with detailed instruction on conducting national searches. NIBIN will identify those sites needing direction and schedule remedial instruction techniques for executing regional and national database searches.

  1. Ensure that NIBIN partner agencies enter the ORI number of the contributing agency for all evidence entered into NIBIN.

ATF concurs with this recommendation, in part.

During the database requirements design phase for the IBIS system, a complete listing of law enforcement and criminal justice agencies ORI numbers were furnished to Forensic Technology, Inc. (FTI) (IBIS contractor) for populating the IBIS system's Law Agency field. For the past five years users have had the ability to select from an ORI "pick list" of law enforcement agencies within their geographical area, via a software process to accelerate entering descriptive ballistic case data. ATF will randomly perform site audits to verify that users are following data entry protocols and procedures. We will also reiterate these best practices to users in the course of on-site training, professional conferences, and meetings.

  1. Resolve the duplicate case ID number issue in the NIBIN database for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation - Montrose; and the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory.

ATF concurs with this recommendation, with comment.

From information and documentation received from FTI, each NIBIN site has a unique site code. Software configuration of each DAS Remote will not allow a user of the system to enter duplicate case identification numbers. Multiple submissions connected to the same case could be entered if a suffix was added (e.g., 94N-0912 and 94N-0912(1)).

NIBIN will review data from sites referenced in the audit report and identify those cases that may necessitate electronic consolidation.

  1. Research the reasons why 12 agencies have achieved high hit rates with relatively low number of cases entered into NIBIN and share the results of such research with the remaining partner agencies.

ATF agrees with this recommendation, with comment.

This issue is noted and is of concern to NIBIN. The audit report lists twelve NIBIN Partner laboratories with numbers of linked crimes that are higher than many other NIBIN Partner laboratories.

It is a noted fact that there is a direct correlation between an increase in evidence exhibits entered into a partner database and an increase in hit ratios. It is proven and accepted that non-evidence entries, test fires, must be able to compare to evidence to establish linked crimes. Test fires are not always from crimes but from "possible" crime guns - - guns coming into police custody. These guns are not always connected to shooting crimes, but in many cases firearms seized during arrests for non-gun crimes or during the investigation of non-gun offenses. Thus, test fires entered from non criminal offense guns would not always be highly suspect of gun crime activity whereas evidence images entered into NIBIN are always crime gun connected. A review of the twelve (12) selected laboratories mentioned by the OIG shows that all have in excess of 50% of their databases as evidence. Conversely, partner laboratories with lower hit totals are found to have an abundance of test fires in the database, NOT evidence of crimes. It takes known crime evidence to link two crimes.

One exception is noted to the above explanation. The laboratory in Johnson County , Kansas , is a very limited user of the NIBIN system as that laboratory has always had a staff shortage and no assigned user for the NIBIN equipment. Subsequently, the user laboratory imaged in only 13 total cases and the resulting hits were suspected of being "Non Hits", not "cold hits" by definition, but in fact "known" hits used in the database to test the accuracy of the system. This resulted in a "hit ratio" of 35%, extremely high, and achieved by only entering "known linked" images.

  1. Establish a plan to enhance promotion of NIBIN to law enforcement agencies nationwide to help increase participation in the program. The plan should address steps to: 1) increase the partner agencies' use of the system, 2) increase the non-partner agencies' awareness and use of the system, and 3) encourage the partner agencies to promote the NIBIN program to other law enforcement agencies in their area.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

Since the inception of the NIBIN program, ATF recognized the need to market and promote the use of the program. The methods to market this new technology and its expansion included presentations at law enforcement conferences and forensic sciences seminars, periodic mailings of literature to law enforcement and laboratory facilities, marketing material, the ATF web page, and simple word of mouth.

ATF will continue to market the NIBIN program by attending and making presentations at national and regional law enforcement and forensic sciences seminars. ATF will continue to support the NIBIN Users Congress Group, which is comprised of a select sampling of NIBIN users throughout the U.S. , who provide feedback to ATF as to technical and administrative advice pertaining to the day-to-day operation of the equipment.

ATF will continue to concentrate on visiting the partner agencies, stressing to them the importance of entering all test-fired crime guns and crime scene evidence. ATF will also provide updated printed materials to the partner agencies, so that they can disseminate this material to those that have not yet learned of the value of NIBIN. ATF will also continue to update the ATF NIBIN web page, so that visitors to the ATF Web site may scan information relative to the program and apply to be partners by downloading and completing the appropriate documents.

In the future, ATF will evaluate ways in which it may better utilize its resources to provide greater outreach to its existing partner agencies in order to promote greater utilization of the system. Also, NIBIN will determine ways in which non-partner agencies may have even greater accessibility to the program than it has today, through either existing NIBIN partner agencies or future system deployments. Finally, ATF will assess different ways in which NIBIN partner agencies may better recruit non-partner agencies within its region.

  1. Determine whether new technology exists that will improve the image quality of bullets enough to make it worthwhile for the participating agencies to spend valuable resources to enter the bullet data into NIBIN, and deploy the technology if it is cost-effective.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

Forensic Firearm Examiners have traditionally classified and identified ballistic evidence on bullets and cartridge casings from class and individual characteristics. The bullet class characteristics include the number of land and groove impressions, direction of twist, and the land impression width. The traditional method of ballistic examination requires the firearm examiner to optically compare evidence specimens, one by one, on a comparison microscope.

Each NIBIN user has received training in the areas of bullet and cartridge acquisition and evaluation. The process of entry and evaluation of bullets is inherently more complex compared to cartridge casings. To develop user agility for entry of bullets after training, NIBIN advocates repetitive entry of test fires, as well as damaged and fragmented bullets as this technique boosts user confidence and tempo of acquisition.

Firearm Examiners perform bullet comparisons by the use of comparison microscopes to view images that are two-dimensional, but have depth of field. In sharp contrast, when viewed on an IBIS system, the images are two dimensional with no depth of field. It may take several weeks or months before an examiner's visual acuity adjusts.

The ratio of bullet evidence to bullet test fire entries is minimal in contrast to cartridge casings. Entry of bullets by a trained but inexperienced examiner takes approximately eight to twenty minutes, even longer if the bullet is damaged or fragmented. In calendar years 2004 and 2005, NIBIN provided several remedial training sessions for NIBIN users on bullet entry and evaluation. User bias and lack of confidence on accurately entering bullets may be a contributing factor to the lack of bullet evidence entered to date.

NIBIN will periodically poll NIBIN users for their recommendations on possible IBIS equipment and/or software enhancements. NIBIN considers all user recommendations in its technological and operational decision-making process.

In consultation with FTI, manufacturer of IBIS, NIBIN and ATF laboratory staff are assessing new ballistic imaging products for possible inclusion into the NIBIN inventory. In the past calendar year, NIBIN tested an FTI product called "BrassTrax," an automated system for entering cartridge casings. Before ATF chooses to add "BrassTrax" to its NIBIN inventory, the system must meet information security requirements. Other technology for NIBIN's consideration is a fully automated 3-D bullet imaging system.

  1. Perform an analysis of the current RBI users, and any other potential users, to determine if they would use an improved system enough to warrant the additional cost. If the analysis concludes that another system would be cost- effective, then the ATF should pursue funding to obtain the system.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

This recommendation is presently under consideration. The current RBI usage is relatively low because small agencies have limited manpower resources and when available, frequently prefer to have firearms evidence evaluated and processed by larger laboratories. The more active RBI users have had varying degrees of success with the RBI as currently configured. Since the RBI is becoming obsolete, any replacement must not only meet the more stringent DOJ and ATF security standards, but also must be cost effective for the ATF. The current projected replacement units are being evaluated and tested to ascertain whether they can meet NIBIN Program standards and user needs. Currently in question is the performance, ability, additional support equipment required, standards planned by the manufacturer and the projected cost of the replacement units.

  1. Provide guidance to partner agencies on the necessity to view correlations in a timely manner and to ensure that correlations viewed in NIBIN are properly marked.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

NIBIN will reiterate to users "best practices" for data entry and evaluation. Use venues such as regional user meetings, the National Users Congress, NIBIN Contractor conference, and the NIBIN Web site will be utilized as a stage for stressing the importance of timely and accurate entry and correlation of both evidence and non- evidence entries.

NIBIN continues to monitor acquisition and non-viewed correlation reports to determine those partner agencies with backlogs.

  1. Monitor the non-viewed correlations of partner agencies and take corrective actions when a backlog is identified.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

NIBIN will monitor non-viewed correlation reports, in conjunction with monthly user data acquisition reports, to ensure correlation data is being assessed in a timely manner

NIBIN continues to monitor acquisition and non-viewed correlation reports to determine those partner agencies with backlogs. NIBIN has recently required that the vendor integrate the non-viewed correlation data into the NIBIN monthly data acquisition report. This allows NIBIN to identify sites with backlogs within the non-correlation request.

  1. Research ways to help the partner agencies eliminate the current backlog of firearms evidence awaiting entry into NIBIN. The research should consider whether the partner agencies can send their backlogged evidence to the ATF Laboratories or to other partner agencies for entry into NIBIN, and whether improvements to the efficiency of NIBIN would facilitate more rapid and easy entry of evidence.

ATF concurs with this recommendation.

Whenever time and funding have allowed, ATF Laboratory Services and NIBIN personnel have assisted partner agencies with backlogs of firearms evidence awaiting entry into NIBIN. IBIS Specialists, Firearms Examiners, Field Division staff and NIBIN contractors have traveled to various sites to inventory evidence backlogs, image ballistic evidence into the NIBIN database, and review correlation results. Unfortunately, ATF does not have the staff or budget to provide such assistance on a continuing basis. The three ATF Laboratories located in Washington , DC ; Atlanta , Georgia ; and Walnut Creek , California , do not have the staff or budget to allow for volumes of ballistic evidence to be processed and imaged into IBIS at these facilities. Further, some State and local agencies do not want to have their firearms evidence processed by a Federal agency.

Several ATF Field Divisions have assisted State and local agencies with grant applications under Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) to secure funding for additional laboratory positions and equipment. Many agencies that have applied for PSN grants have received substantial funding that has provided the additional manpower needed to support the NIBIN Program in their area. ATF and the NIBIN Program Office will continue to assist and support our partner agencies in securing funding wherever it is available to provide them with every opportunity to make this program a success in their laboratories and law enforcement agencies.

ATF has provided its partner agencies with the most state-of-the-art ballistic imaging equipment available. We will continue to work with FTI to ensure that our partner agencies have a seamless network on which to operate the IBIS units. The NIBIN Program will require additional funding in order to provide our partner agencies with new technology.

ATF will pursue every avenue necessary to support the partner agencies involved in the NIBIN Program.

  1. Coordinate with Department of Justice law enforcement agencies that seize firearms and firearms evidence to help them establish a process for entering the seized evidence into NIBIN.

Partially concur.

On January 19, 2001 , the week that they were leaving office, former Attorney General Janet Reno and former Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers drafted a memorandum in which they state that all Treasury and Justice enforcement bureaus "should enter bullets and shell casings found at a crime scene into NIBIN." The memorandum goes on to say, "Similarly, ballistic evidence recovered from crime scenes should be entered into NIBIN." We support this policy. It should be noted, however, that the memorandum requests that a policy be established to enter only "evidence" and does not mention test-fires from seized or recovered weapons. The memorandum also asks each agency to implement this directive.

ATF is presently conducting a pilot program to determine the most effective and efficient method to not only enter all ballistic evidence into NIBIN as the memorandum requests, but also to enter test fires of all weapons taken into ATF custody. ATF will share with the other DOJ agencies what we learn from our pilot program in the Columbus , Ohio Field Division so they can use it to help establish a protocol and implement the memorandum's directive to participate in the NIBIN Program.

We feel that additional participation by other Federal law enforcement agencies will be of value. It is ATF's responsibility to educate other Federal law enforcement agencies concerning the value of NIBIN and provide information to them on how they can participate. We presently have placed NIBIN equipment with the FBI, Department of Defense, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies have the ability to participate fully in the program if they choose. We have also spoken on a national level with the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as with most other Federal agencies on a local level and discussed entering their ballistic evidence into NIBIN.

As we complete our pilot program and implement it on a national level, we will contact other Federal law enforcement agencies and provide them with information and assistance in establishing their own protocol and methods for participating in the NIBIN Program.

Conclusion:

ATF will employ a well-balanced strategy to ensure that the NIBIN Program continues to meet and exceed the technological and programmatic needs of its partners. ATF faces a number of emerging challenges in the years ahead, which dictate that ATF utilize innovative solutions and technology in its strategies to accomplish the goals set. ATF will continue, in the years to come, to look for ways to improve its business practices.

If you have any questions regarding this response, please contact, Carol Campbell, Audit Liaison, Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations, at (202) 927-8276.

OSB/Carl J. Truscott





Previous Page Back to Table of Contents Next Page