ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Anytime there is a violent crime involving guns in the Capital Region, the evidence collected at the scene all ends up in one place.
In the Forensic Investigation Center inside the New York State Police Crime Lab in Albany, technology is their best weapon in fighting crime.
“This is our reference collection where we store examples of firearms,” Major Timothy Munro with the NYSP said. “About 800 in this collection.”
From the tiniest of firearms to an ArmaLite 50 caliber rifle, the crime lab encounters a lot of cases. The gun vault carries a little bit of everything because investigators never know what they will encounter in a case.
“Most of the Capital District all the guns would come here,” Sgt. Munro said.
Evidence markers are placed at crime scenes for shell casings, guns and bullets. It’s all put into a computer that takes detailed pictures that are saved on a database called the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.
“There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scene that people aren’t aware of,” NYSP Lab Director Ray Wickenheiser said.
It starts at a work station where Sgt. Michael Dallaird matches the casings found at the scene against potential matches.
“We are entering over 1,000 individual casings a year,” Sgt. Munro said.
But the computer speeds up the process to find a match – something that would take ordinary human eyes thousands of hours. The computer cuts down on time it takes to track down a suspect.
Sgt. Dallaird is a firearms examiner. He is able to look at casings side-by-side.
“Each gun is unique to itself,” he said.
Guns are similar to fingerprints. Each time a bullet is fired, the shell casings leave behind crucial clues for investigators to connect the dots. As a result, they can match a gun to a crime scene and find out if it was used at another crime scene or even potentially match it to a shooter.
“Points us in a direction and makes the best use of limited resources,” Sgt. Munro said.
Even if investigators don’t have access to the gun from the crime scene, they probably have a reference model on the shelves of the gun vault. That model lets them find out what kind of grooves and ridges the gun would create on shell casings when fired.
It’s information that could make or break a case.
“With that information they have absolutely been able to solve a case that otherwise would have been unsolvable,” Wickenheiser said.
Forensics looks at the evidence form all angles.
“Depending on how difficult they are, I’ve spent a couple of minutes with cartridge cases to a couple of days on bullets,” forensic scientist Maria Rauche said.
All that work has led to more evidence linking a shooter to the gun.
“Ultimately has identified over 60 cases in 2014 that were actual matches to other crimes or other guns,” Sgt. Munro said.
Sgt. Munro said the database has helped speed up how long it takes to solve a case.
“A NIBIN hit is a tremendous lead for an investigator out in the field,” he said.
One of those leads helped solve a 2013 murder case against Russel Palmer and Kareem Murray. The two were found guilty of Second Degree Murder thanks to a match from the database.
The database is working so well that state police want to add another work station and train more firearm examiners so they can have more than one person looking at the clues.
NIBIN is the only interstate automated ballistic imaging network in operation in the U.S. The computer network is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which enables major crime labs, such as the one we visited, to search ballistic databases nationally.