Durham has a lot of gun crime, according to the city’s police forensics manager. In the firearms lab at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, gun and bullet evidence from Durham account for a full third of the agency’s workload. Processing the evidence, though, can take the SBI’s lab up to two years, holding up investigations and keeping law enforcement from getting the guns off the streets. This spring, the city will address the backlog issue by opening its own firearms testing facility.
The firearms lab will be housed in the crime lab that was built in downtown Durham last year. City funds and federal grants are paying for lab equipment and staff, including training. The one analyst will undergo extensive training over the next year and a half, during which time she will be able to test-fire guns and examine them for trace evidence and fingerprints. More sophisticated analysis, such as matching bullets to the gun that fired them, will still be handled by the SBI until the end of the analyst’s training period.
Also in the works is a direct connection to a nationwide weapons database that can connect a firearm used in one state to a crime committed in another. Until the lab’s application is approved, this analysis will go through the SBI.
SBI personnel state that the city may be jumping the gun by opening its own ballistics facility. If investigators in Durham feel they are not getting results quickly enough and believe that a threat to public safety exists, for example, they can request expedited analysis.
Durham officials agree that SBI responds quickly to expedited emergency requests, emphasizing that the city’s plans for a lab started long before the Raleigh News & Observer’s investigation turned up serious problems with the SBI last summer.
The city’s objective is self-sufficiency, the ability to deal with gun crimes themselves and to give the SBI more time to process evidence from other agencies. When the Durham lab is fully operational, it will process about 2,000 pieces of evidence (bullet fragments, for example) and 700 guns seized from suspects in approximately 300 cases each year.
Resource: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) “Durham Plans Ballistics Lab” 01/02/11