Forensic Technology Blog

Operation Samson, Gun Crime and a Three-Legged Stool

Posted by Pete Gagliardi Jun 30, 2014 8:01:00 AM

Solving more gun crime

(Spanish Version here)

Every crime gun and related piece of evidence holds a story. Parts of the story come from the inside of the gun and parts from the outside.  

In order to listen to that story, we must apply the right balance of people, processes and technology required to exploit the all of the information from both inside and outside the gun.

For example, from the inside comes important ballistics data transferred to fired bullets and cartridge cases as they come into contact with certain parts of the gun during the discharge process. On the outside of the gun we find the descriptive data needed to trace its transfer history, and we may well find DNA, fingerprints and other forensic trace evidence their also.  

  • In terms of people, they are needed to collect, preserve and transfer evidence, to investigate criminal cases, to conduct forensic testing, to trace guns, analyze data and disseminate intelligence. It also takes people to hear and try criminals’ cases in court and administer justice. 
  • In terms of processes, policy leads the way. It takes policy communicated through written and standard operating directives to direct, guide and hold people accountable for doing what they are paid to do. In order for processes to be sustainable, they must be efficient and effective. However, to be of maximum crime solving value – they must also be timely.
  • In terms of technology, available systems like IBIS can process ballistics data and search it over wide area networks like the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) to link crimes, guns and suspects across city, state and national boundaries, there is eTrace for crime gun tracing and analysis, CODIS for DNA, AFIS for fingerprints, intelligence systems like GunOPS and acoustic detection systems like Shotspotter to hear gunshots and "call the cops”.  

Two questions that I am often asked are:

  1. Which agencies are among the most successful in targeting armed criminals and dealing with gun violence today, and;
  2. What are they are doing that makes them so successful?

I’ll answer question number two first: the most successful agencies are the ones exploiting the information from inside and outside the crime guns and evidence that they encounter. These agencies are successful because they process the information in a timely and sustainable manner through a balance of skilled people, sound processes and innovative technology.

Who are among the most successful? Hardly a week goes by that I don’t read about a police agency having a successful program in place aimed at identifying and stopping armed criminals.    

Just this week alone, I have come across some very good examples of gun violence reduction efforts. In addition to being just plain smart, they represent a very common sense approach – focusing on the identification, apprehension and prosecution of people who shoot guns to harm others.

For example, police in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut made news this weeksamson announcing the culmination of successful four month initiative code named Operation Samson led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). A multi-layered initiative, Samson focused on identifying and stopping armed criminals and those that arm them.

Samson brought together all the right people: investigators, forensic experts and prosecutors at the local, state and federal levels. It involved tried and true processes and investigative techniques as well as some newly revamped processes for the timely generation of crime gun intelligence from inside and outside of the crime guns they encountered.

Last but not least, Operation Sampson maximized the use of technology to help its people speed their processes and make them more efficient and effective. An instrumental component of Operation Samson was the IBIS technology used by the Connecticut State Crime Laboratory to conduct electronic searches across the NIBIN network in order to link crimes, guns and suspects.

Operation Samson was a successful collaborative effort in which the right people, processes and technology were applied over a four month period to:

  • seize more than 73 firearms
  • connect 104 shooting crimes
  • provide new investigative leads to advance firearm related investigations including four murders
  • identify and shut down two crime gun trafficking operations
  • seize several kilos of drugs
  • And, finally, prosecute 154 criminals for state and federal violations

Should we expect any less from an operation named Samson?The three-legged stool of fighting firearm crime

Want another example?

Not far from Connecticut down in New Jersey - policy leads the way. Policy in the form of Public Law 2013, Chapter 162, which essentially requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to fully utilize certain Federal Criminal Justice Information Systems to transmit and receive information relating to the seizure and recovery of firearms by law enforcement. In particular: the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) System to determine whether a firearm has been reported stolen; the ATF eTrace System to establish the identity of a firearm’s first purchaser, where that firearm was purchased and when it was purchased; and the National Integrated Ballistics Identification (NIBIN) Network to ascertain whether a particular firearm is related to any other criminal event or person.

Following the legislature’s lead, Project 360, driven by the New Jersey State Police is a partnership with local police and federal agencies, prosecuting attorneys and forensic service providers. It relies upon teamwork, tactics, & technology to exploit the information from crime guns and leverage it with other information about problem people and problem places. Project 360 is designed to help its law enforcement partners follow their cases to their natural conclusions, solve more crimes and stop armed criminals before they can do additonal harm.

The ATF eTrace system and IBIS systems connected to the NIBIN network form the largest chunk of Project 360's technology.

RAIN, on the other hand, which stands for Rapid Assessment In NIBIN - represents a change in forensic ballistics tactics designed to increase the speed in which investigative leads linking crimes, guns and suspects are generated and disseminated to investigators.

Most notable, in addition to the legislative mandates, has been the recognition and committment by the State Police and Attorney General's Office to perform outreach and provide training for affected stakeholders. A unique partnership was formed between the Attorney General’s Advocacy Institute, the State Police, ATF and Forensic Technology Inc. to conduct a series of outreach seminars to police, prosecutors and forensic experts informing them of the new policies and procedures.    

Increased focus on armed criminals and the collection and sharing of crime gun data for intelligence-led enforcement operations are also appearing in new discussions being held at the United Nations.

In 2001, the United Nations adopted the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA). According to the UN website, the PoA contains concrete suggestions for improved national legislation and controls, regional cooperation, and international assistance and cooperation. It covers a wide range of topics including: small arms manufacturing; marking, record-keeping, and tracing; stockpile management and security; surplus identification and disposal; brokering; public awareness; and DDR programmes.

Last week the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, took place in New York.

The meeting produced a draft document entitled: Outcome of the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

Section II, Paragraph 38, of the draft document suggests as the way forward: To consider utilizing, as appropriate and on a voluntary basis, available tools to support the effectiveness, efficiency and speed of information-sharing related to the tracing of illicit small arms and light weapons and their diversion to the illicit trade, illegal armed groups, terrorists and other unauthorized recipients, including relevant online and other technologies. This paragraph essentially encourages people to consider putting processes in place to avail themselves of technology for the timely collection and sharing of crime gun trace information found outside of each crime gun.

Section II, Paragraph 46, of the draft document suggests as the way forward: To encourage States and international, regional and subregional organizations in a position to do so to provide, upon request, adequate technical and financial assistance to strengthen national capacities for ballistics information collection and exchange. This paragraph essentially encourages investments in capacity building related to the people, processes and technology needed to collect and exchange the inside the gun ballistics data from the crime guns they encounter.

Yes, every crime gun holds a story. To understand it we must apply the right balance of people, processes and technology in order to fully exploit the data from inside and outside the gun.  Successful enforcement operations like Samson and Project 360 found a way to do this – they found a way to to balance the three-legged stool and confront gun crime – hopefully more will step up and do the same.

Pete Gagliardi



Topics: NIBIN, Shooting, Intelligence-led Policing, evidence, New Jersey, New York, Forensics, IBIS, ballistics identification, ballistics

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