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Parkersburg Police Department hosts ATF ballistics mobile unit

Stacie Alvey, intelligence research specialist for the ATF’s Louisville Field Division, reviews images from test-fired shell casings before submitting them to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network database Thursday from a mobile unit set up this week at the Parkersburg Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Every gun that is fired leaves unique, microscopic markings on its spent shell casings.

The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is a database available to local, state and federal law enforcement partners to compare this evidence to determine links between ammunition and the specific guns that fired it. Established by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosions, NIBIN uses imaging technology to find possible matches that are then reviewed by trained technicians.

“Those firing pin impressions are just like your fingerprint,” Parkersburg Police Lt. J.M. Stalnaker said.

The department has been participating in the program for about two years and is playing host this week to a mobile unit to both highlight the service and more quickly assess evidence from local cases.

“I think it’s a proactive measure in policing to utilize this system,” said Stalnaker, who has been trained in submitting evidence to the system. “We’re actively trying to match up (firearms) to crimes.”

Wood County Sheriff’s Sgt. M.C. Hupp and Detective C.P. Nichols tag evidence envelopes after test-firing handguns at the ATF’s mobile NIBIN unit outside the Parkersburg Municipal Building on Thursday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Parkersburg was the last stop on a tour of the state for the mobile unit after visits to Wheeling and Bridgeport, said Stacie Alvey, intelligence research specialist with the ATF’s Louisville Field Division, which covers West Virginia, Kentucky and southern Indiana. The city was chosen because its department is active in submitting evidence to NIBIN, but part of the goal was to expose other area law enforcement to the system.

“We wanted to give hands-on experience to the surrounding agencies,” Alvey said.

On Thursday morning, deputies from the Wood County Sheriff’s Department were on hand. Vienna and Williamstown Police were expected to attend Thursday afternoon and today.

Sheriff’s Detective C.P. Nichols entered the NIBIN trailer parked at the Municipal Building and fired a Glock handgun twice into a bullet trap. He and Sgt. M.C. Hupp said the weapon had been recovered from the garbage at a local restaurant.

“Hopefully, we can develop some leads out of it,” Nichols said.

The ATF’s mobile NIBIN unit includes an assortment of ammunition to test fire so unique firing pin marks can be recorded from the casings. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Alvey scanned the spent shell casings with a device set up in the van pulling the trailer. Once the best image was selected and marked, she submitted it to the NIBIN correlation center in Alabama for review.

“We should know today if we have a lead to another crime,” Alvey said.

Without the mobile unit, Parkersburg Police submit casings recovered from shooting scenes or from test firings to NIBIN through the Charleston Police Department, Stalnaker said. Previously, Stalnaker input the ballistic evidence himself, but now, ATF has a contractor working there to do that. A NIBIN computer has also been installed at the West Virginia State Police lab in South Charleston.

There is no cost to participate in the service, said Lissa Jordan, assistant special agent in charge of the Louisville Field Office. Now that the contractor is set up in Charleston, a department does not even have to have a trained officer like Stalnaker to submit the evidence.

“Our goal is to try to catch suspects before they reoffend with that same weapon,” Jordan said.

Stacie Alvey, intelligence research specialist for the ATF’s Louisville Field Division, reviews images from test-fired shell casings before submitting them to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network database Thursday from a mobile unit set up this week at the Parkersburg Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Stalnaker said Parkersburg Police have matched firearms recovered during searches or traffic stops with casings found at crime scenes. And Jordan noted that even if a match isn’t found immediately, adding the evidence to the database could result in a match in the future.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

Wood County Sheriff’s Detective C.P. Nichols test fires a Glock handgun recovered from the trash at a local restaurant into a bullet trap in an ATF mobile NIBIN unit set up at the Parkersburg Municipal Building on Thursday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

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