HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The ATF cut the ribbon on their new facility in Huntsville on Thursday, shedding light on the important work being done at the center to help law enforcement agencies across the country uncover leads in investigations.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) National Correlation and Training Center (NNCTC) is located on Old Madison Pike.
It provides consistent, timely ballistics analysis and correlation services to federal, state and local law enforcement.
“The facility is designed to be the hub nationwide to utilize our technology in terms of the crime scene and recovery of the shell casings and the firearms. The facility definitely helps the middle Tennessee Valley region, including Huntsville, as well as all over the country in different cities and counties that experience the crime gun issue that we have,” explained Special Agent Michael Knight, ATF public information officer.
The staff is using state-of-the-art technology to review correlation results. Spent shell casings have unique marks and can be examined in an effort to connect shootings and identify weapons used in crimes.
“Basically it’s important for investigators to get this information quickly because ATF and every agency wants to stop that shooter,” said Meredith Acosta, branch chief.
During a special tour, members of the media followed the shell casings through the whole process. K-9 Ranger demonstrated how he sniffs out shell casings at a crime scene. He can also find guns that have been tossed out by criminals trying to get rid of evidence.
Those shell casings are then uploaded into the ATF's National Integrated Ballistics Information Network or NIBIN.
"They're looking at cartridge cases that were entered into our NIBIN network by a state or local agency. They are looking for a match between cartridge cases," Acosta stated. "We recently had a case out of Albuquerque. They asked for a national search. Not knowing what was going to come back, we actually found two leads out of Huntsville to Albuquerque so that was really interesting."
We also got to see the ATF’s mobile NIBIN lab. The van can go to rural areas to help law enforcement. One of the labs is currently stationed in Selma, Alabama.
"It's one stop shopping, as it were. We can acquire fired cartridge cases that have been recovered on the scene of a crime or if a firearm has been recovered, we can test fire that firearm in the trailer and acquire the fired cartridge cases into the NIBIN system," said Walter Dandridge Jr., ATF Firearms & Toolmark Examiner.
There are more than 60 contractors working at the Huntsville center.
The ATF hopes to have 120 highly trained, full-time Correlation Review Specialists employed by October, as their presence continues to grow in the Tennessee Valley.
ATF has the National Center for Explosives Training and Research on Redstone Arsenal and they also have the new facility off post in Huntsville, which focuses on crime scene technology with the guns and shell casings that are recovered from different scenes.
“It’s about the technology being used in terms of realizing from the crime scene all the way to investigative leads and that timeline. It’s crucial in reducing the violent crime that occurs in cities across the country,” Knight stated. “ATF works with our state and local partners throughout the country for the main purpose of reducing violent crime and providing a safe environment for the community.”
The NNCTC provides ballistics image correlation review services to more than 45 NIBIN sites, representing more than 300 law enforcement agencies across the nation.
It accounts for roughly 30 percent of all ballistic image acquisitions in the U.S. In most cases, the NNCTC is able to complete correlation review within 48 hours.
As of February 2019, the NNCTC has conducted 127,917 correlation reviews, resulting in the generation of more than 33,000 investigative leads to law enforcement partners. The leads help solve homicides, attempted homicides, robberies and other non-fatal shootings.