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The National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) is a database of digital images of the markings on fired cartridge cases and bullets from crime scenes and test fired firearms. The system is funded and maintained by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Firearm examiners and technicians in agencies across the country enter the images into the database using a specialized microscope camera and software. A computer algorithm searches the database for similar images and returns a list of possible candidates for viewing by the examiner.

The NIBIN system does not return a flashing signal of “Match! Match!” the way it may be portrayed in movies and TV. The digital images in the correlation list are inspected to determine if there are any possible high confidence candidates. If any high confidence candidates are flagged within the correlation list, a firearm and tool mark examiner then must physically compare the actual pieces of evidence using a comparison microscope (See Cartridge Case and Projectile Examination). If an identification is made that links two cases previously unknown to be related, it is called a “cold hit.” No “hits” are confirmed using only the digital images or correlation list in NIBIN without first being manually compared by a trained firearm examiner.
The purpose of NIBIN is to link crimes across time and across jurisdictions. For example, imagine a convenience store robbery in Baltimore, MD in which the only evidence is a fired cartridge case left at the scene. The police agency investigating the case has their crime lab enter images of the cartridge case into the NIBIN database. Six months later, during a routine traffic stop in Washington, DC, a pistol is recovered from the back seat of a suspect’s car. When images of test fired cartridge cases from that pistol are entered into the NIBIN database by an entirely different crime lab, the association may be discovered to provide valuable investigational information to both law enforcement agencies.

Generally, a full nationwide search is not done for every case, as this would overload the system. Individual law enforcement agencies determine whether a local, state-wide, or regional search best fits their needs.


NIBIN Data Acquisition Station

Example of a Correlation Result List

Example of a Side-by-Side Image View



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All rights reserved.  Revised: May 07, 2013.