Forensic Ballistics: A Tool in a Crime Solving Toolbox
“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a 1974 spy novel by British author John le Carré and is the story upon which a recently released movie of the same name is based.
So what does this book have to do with forensic ballistics?
Other than the fact that the title is very clever and just rolls off your tongue, I hope to leverage its words to make my point today.
The point is that forensic ballistics is one tool among many in the crime solving toolbox for the tasks faced by police laboratories today. Next week it may be the only tool you need, but for next month's case it may take other tools or a combination of tools to do the same thing.
Whether a tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy, all of us use tools of one kind or another. A simple job like hanging a picture on a wall can be done with a hammer, yet depending upon the individual picture and the construction of the wall, several different tools may be needed to get the job done.
When it comes to the monumental job of stopping armed criminals and bringing them to justice we know that justice requires evidence. And evidence requires investigation. And investigations require information.
Firearms and fired ammunition components hold a great deal of identifying and forensic information.
There are various scientific and technological tools available to us to extract and decipher this potential crime solving information. For example, there are tools like ATF’s eTrace for crime gun tracing, NCIC for stolen firearms reporting and recognition, ATF’s NIBIN network for ballistics evidence, CODIS for DNA, and AFIS for fingerprints – all of which can help police quickly develop and share the information needed to stop armed criminals - even those on the move who cross multiple jurisdictions.
In order for us be most effective at stopping armed criminals we must keep all of these tools at the ready in our crime solving tool box.
It is all too easy for us to succumb to the “silver bullet syndrome” — where we seek to rely too heavily on the use of a single tool.
A few weeks ago, I learned some “back story” on a familiar case which helps make my point. It relates to the case of the murder of Metro Transit Police Officer Marlon F. Morales who was shot as he attempted to stop what appeared to be a routine case of fare evasion in Washington, DC, in 2001.
Following the shooting, the officer’s service weapon was stolen. Police collected DNA from the empty holster which was believed to be that of the killer.
DNA – a slam dunk right?
Great focus was put on running DNA database searches – and rightfully so – yet it wasn’t DNA at all which led police to the killer 100 miles away in Philadelphia. On that day, it would be the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) and the good work of the beat cops who stopped a car for a traffic violation and, in the process, seized a gun.
Tinker – tailor – soldier - spy.
There are many tools which we must try - to stop armed criminals who run awry - tinker - tailor - soldier - spy.