MD State Police Report Flunks Database
by Joseph P. Tartaro
So-called ballistic fingerprinting schemes took a hit in Maryland at the beginning of November. Not a death blow, since the negative report by the Maryland State Police recommended against expansion of that states three-year-old ballistic imaging database system. It stopped short of recommending that the system be scrapped.
The report did outline substantial problems with the states ballistic imaging database and recommended against proposed expansion, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The 40-page report by the director of the agencys crime lab concluded, among other things, that the ballistic samples of handguns on file are often not from the type of guns used by criminals, and that the state system is not linked to the national database maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive.
In spite of these problems, it is recommended that (the database) continue in operation, the report concluded. This database, like the DNA statewide database, needs time to develop before it bears fruit.
So-called ballistic fingerprintinga term-of-art for the method of computerized comparisons of the tool marks made by a gun on a bullet and/or cartridge casebecame a prominent issue in the last Maryland legislative session when then-Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose and the mother of a victim of the Washington-area serial sniper pushed for tougher measures to control gun crime.
Maryland and New York are the only states with comparable digital databases built-up on digital imaging of samples from newly manufactured handguns sold in each state.
The Maryland State Police have maintained a database of handgun casings, which are provided by gun manufacturers or obtained from state police test firings, since 2000. And gun control advocates hoped the state would pass legislation expanding the database to include rifles and shotguns.
But because of problems with the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) and the projected $2.2 million cost of expanding the states system, state police are recommending that the state not enact new legislation.
The MD-IBIS Systems needs to be monitored further with handguns to ensure that its intended purpose is being met, state police crime lab Director Jay Tobin Jr. concluded in the report, which was submitted to the Senate Budget and Taxation and House Appropriations committees in October.
The databasewhich has cost $2.1 million over the past three yearshas generated four matches, and in each case, police already had the gun they were trying to trace, according to the report.
Although CeaseFire Maryland was one of the groups that pushed for expanding the database this year, Executive Director Leah Barrett agreed with the state police conclusion. I think they need to get this thing working before they expand it, she said, according to The Sun.
Among the problems identified in the report: Some casings submitted by manufacturer Glock have not been reliable; the casings submitted by gun manufacturers are not usually from the type of guns linked to crime scenes, and the states database cannot be linked with the national database.
However, gun rights advocates say there are bigger problems with the system. For one thing, it hasnt helped solve any crimes, said Roy Tarbutton, former vice president of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, alluding to the direct and indirect cost of a system which has produced no impact on criminal investigations.
James M. Purtilo, author of Tripwire, a political newsletter advocating gun rights, told The Sun that he wished the state had studied the system before implementing it. The state police report is like a proud parent trying to put a best face on a childs failing grades, he said.
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