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New Tech Will Help Berks County, Pa., Investigate Gun Violence

Berks County was awarded ballistic imaging equipment to help trace firearms used in crimes.

by Karen Shuey, Reading Eagle / October 12, 2018

(TNS) — When guns are used to commit crimes in Berks County, Pa., they leave behind a trail of bloodshed and heartbreak.

They also can sometimes leave behind the shell casings from the bullets that were fired.

Those casings, Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said, are crucial evidence investigators use to trace the carnage back to the firearm used in the crime. But it generally takes months for the state crime lab to deliver results to local law enforcement.

That will soon change.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced Thursday that the county is one of 22 agencies chosen to receive a ballistic imaging system, equipment that allows investigators to examine casings without having to send them away to be analyzed.

Adams said that the system will help detectives solve gun crimes sooner by delivering results within 72 hours.

“This will be a big boost to the work we are doing here already,” he said. “It’s very difficult to describe just how fortunate we are to have this cutting-edge technology. It will go a long ways toward protecting our communities.”

The system will allow trained personnel to take digital images of markings on fired cartridges and compare them to the 16 million images that on file in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.

Those images become a confirmed hit when two firearm examiners — using a comparison microscope — agree the same weapon fired the cases. The ATF reports that NIBIN partners have had about 110,000 NIBIN hits since the network was launched in 1999.

Chief County Detective Michael J. Gombar said timing is crucial when it comes to solving violent crimes.

“The key to all gun violence is a timely submission, processing and examination of the evidence,” he said. “This system can match casings from different crime scenes and to a source firearm. Casings matched, even without the source firearm, provides actionable intelligence to law enforcement. That information is significantly beneficial to the investigation.”

Adams said he hopes to have the system online as soon as possible. The county is in the process of installing the system now and will hold a press conference sometime next month to show how it works.

“We think this is going to be a great resource for law enforcement in our county, as well as law enforcement from neighboring counties who want to utilize this new technology,” he said. “We are so proud to have this. It’s going to increase our ability to solve gun crimes exponentially.”

©2018 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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