Tastes great! Solve homicides! Prevent shooting!
Author: Ron Nichols
“Tastes great! Less filling!”, the long-running marketing campaign for a lite version of a popular beer, was ranked by a marketing magazine as the eighth best campaign in history. Commercials featured individuals who would drink the beer and then exclaim, “Tastes great!” This of course would get the attention of others who were adamant that it was, “Less filling!”, resulting in a parody of a Wild West saloon fight breaking out between two groups. The commercial ended with a voiceover naming the beer and then saying, “Everything you’ve always wanted in a beer. And less.”
Perspective is everything
Whether it is the perspective of “tastes great” or “less filling,” or the points of view of five eyewitnesses at the scene of an automobile accident, perspective causes us to look at things in a particular manner and develop perceptions, which are defined as beliefs or opinions based on our perspective. Because of this, we often will perform research to educate us on different options so that we can make the best-informed decision possible. When doing so, it is important to have an appreciation of the perspectives of those providing the opinions, because understanding their perspectives and approach allow us to better understand the results.
Governments operate in a very similar fashion. There are many agencies within governments each looking at things from their own perspectives. As a result, many voices are clamoring for a limited supply of funds. To assist with decisions related to budget allocation, governments will authorize research into various programs to assess their overall value and determine whether funding should be initiated or, where funding is already being allocated, if funding should continue. Such research has been performed to assess the value of IBIS in various programs worldwide (NIBIN in the United States, CIBIN in Canada, ABIN in Australia, and RIBIN in the Caribbean). One common theme in this research as related to IBIS is to ask the question, “Does IBIS help solve gun crime?”
Goal – solve or prevent gun crime
With such a narrow perspective of solving crime, I would suggest that researchers have had the wrong context in mind. The reason is that there are many elements that factor into successfully concluding an investigation with a conviction and, more often than not, there is significant interplay among these elements. Therefore, to try to isolate IBIS as the single factor is next to impossible. As a result, these reports are not particularly helpful and they could even prove to be harmful to the cause of protecting the public.
An example of the latter has been occurring in the state of California. There was one agency that looked at the rate of leads with other agencies outside of its jurisdiction and decided that it could go with a non-regional, stand-alone ballistic identification system. This proved to be very shortsighted because a different short-term study demonstrated that the rate of leads identified through the use of NIBIN (a nationwide network powered by IBIS technology), to agencies outside their jurisdiction was in excess of 50%, not the 3% they had cited. As a result of this study, the agency chose to return to the NIBIN network and is now maintaining a 30% rate of leads outside their jurisdictions. Furthermore, they have increased their capacity by processing more evidence and providing leads within days instead of months. All of this without adding personnel.
What this agency realized was that their perspective had to be widened from solving gun crime to preventing gun crime. While solving gun crime is important, it would seem that the overall goal for those in the criminal justice system (police, laboratory personnel and prosecutors) should be the prevention of and, ultimately, the reduction and eradication of gun crime altogether (as elusive as this may be). By widening the perspective, the value of the nationwide NIBIN network is much more evident.
Why is IBIS the answer?
Because crimes extend across jurisdictional boundaries, a regional and national perspective is required; and IBIS is the only way to answer the critical question, “How often, and where, is a particular firearm used?” While the answer will not directly identify the actual individual pulling the trigger, such tracking of a firearm’s use can provide valuable information that could lead to the identification of that individual. For example, if three shootings are linked to a specific firearm and several individuals are suspected, the list of suspects could be reduced by looking at other information gathered from those shootings, such as through interviews, the analysis of social media platforms and cell phone use, and the utilization of other technologies. Although this information exists apart from the firearm link, it was the firearm link that pulls it all together.
At the same time, while the technology is the only way to answer that critical question, it is not the only important issue. The usefulness of the answer is ultimately dependent on the strategies that are put into place to support the technology. Pete Gagliardi (Principal Officer, Triple Barrel Strategies, LLC) has often referred to this concept as a three-legged stool, with the legs representing people, processes, and technology. Without the properly balanced combination of all three, the stool cannot function as designed. Therefore, not only is IBIS the only way to answer that critical question, people and processes need to be put into place to maximize the potential of IBIS.
When changing the perspective of the research from solving crime to preventing gun crime, the value of a nationwide network powered by IBIS technology is much more apparent. The reason is that when preventing gun crime, the reliable and rapid determination of “How often, and where, is a particular firearm used?” will be critical to a successful strategy. IBIS is the only way to answer that question on a local and regional basis. Therefore, IBIS technology, and the associated people and processes, are critical to the overall strategy.
“IBIS – everything you have wanted in a ballistic imaging technology. Solve homicides! Prevent shootings!” That being said, it’s time for a beer.