Forensic Firearms Identification Unit (Ballistics)
The Union County Police Forensic Firearms Identification Unit, or Firearms ID Unit for short, was established in 2003 to alleviate the need for police agencies in Union County to travel out of county, sometimes as far as Trenton NJ, to submit firearms evidence for forensic examination. Our Firearms Examiners are Superior Court qualified experts in the field of Forensic Firearms Examination. The mission of the Firearms ID Unit is to provide unbiased real-time actionable intelligence to the Union County Law Enforcement Community and Expert testimony in NJ Superior Court based on the results of scientific examinations.
What We Do
The definition of Firearms Identification is “a discipline within forensic science where the primary concern is to determine if a bullet, cartridge casing, or other ammunition component was fired from a specific weapon.” Therefore, the most important scientific examination we conduct is a Microscopic Comparison in which two or more pieces of evidence are examined side by side on a comparison microscope in an attempt to identify Individual Characteristics that are shared between any of these pieces of evidence. When sufficient agreement is observed between two or more items they can be determined to have been fired from the same weapon.
Another import examination conducted by the unit is an Operability Study. An Operability Study is a scientific study to determine if a firearm functions as designed by the manufacturer. This type of study is very important in gun cases. In many types of criminal cases it is import for the prosecution to prove that a subject firearm was operable at the time a crime was committed. It is equally import for the defense counsel to show that a subject firearm may not have been operable. This is an import defense in certain cases. The results of an Operability Study can be “Operable”, “Readily-Operable”, or “Inoperable”.
Many submitted firearms have the required serial number removed from the weapon in an attempt to inhibit law enforcement from determining its origin or rightful owner. This also inhibits law enforcement from determining if a subject firearm is stolen. In 1968 the federal government passed a law requiring that all firearms manufactured in, or imported into, the United States bear a serial number that is unique by manufacturer. Other markings that were required include make, model, caliber, origin country, and importers name, city and state if applicable. In most cases the serial number or other markings are obliterated from view by either gouging or grinding the marking so it can’t be seen by the naked eye. Firearms examiners can use many techniques to restore the obliterated marking to the weapon, one of which is Acid Etch. This technique employs the use of acid to burn away the metal starting at the surface in an attempt to reveal the true marking which were originally impressed into the metal. Once the serial number is determined, the firearm can be traced by its lawful sales record to its owner.
Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS)
The Integrated Ballistic Identification System, or IBIS, is a nationwide computer network operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATFE) that contains an electronic database of test shots from submitted firearms and crime scene evidence that can be correlated for to find tentative matches between cases as a form of lead generation for investigators. The data concentrator for the New Jersey and Connecticut regions is housed at the Union County Police Firearms ID Unit. Agencies from these regions that submit evidence and utilize this investigative tool include the Union County Police, New Jersey State Police, Newark Police, Essex County Sheriff’s, Somerset County Prosecutors Office, Bergen County Prosecutors Office, and Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety. All of these agencies maintain a fully qualified Firearms Identification Unit in which firearms examiners input evidence and review results of the correlations. With these Firearms Labs in place any law enforcement agency in New Jersey has access to the IBIS System and can correlate against any other agency in New Jersey and the United States if necessary. The Union County Police maintain an agreement with the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office which allows a Firearms Examiner from Ocean County to utilize our IBIS Station to input their own evidence for correlation. The Union County Police also provides Forensic Firearms Examinations to the Port Authority Police at Newark-Liberty Airport and the Ports of Elizabeth and Newark.
The Union County Police Firearms ID Unit has provided countless investigative leads to law enforcement over the years including a case in which the subject of an armed robbery/double homicide in Union County was linked to the unsolved murder of a young boy in Virginia.
On January 30, 2010 a Fairfield police officer Gerald Veneziano was on his way to work when he became the victim of a road rage incident. The officer was shot six times and sustained life threatening injuries. One of the shots had shattered his jaw. Since this shooting occurred in a parking lot along a major roadway the officer had to crawl over a berm near the shoulder of the roadway so he could flag down someone to assist him. The quick response of nearby officers and paramedics truly saved this young officers life. Firearm evidence was collected at the scene and transported to the Newark Police Ballistics Lab for immediate examination and input into the IBIS System.
Now it was the job of a multi-agency task force to solve this seemingly random act of violence. The officer was the only known witness to his assault and unable to communicate verbally to assist the task force from his hospital bed as his jaw was wired closed. The task force operated for nearly two weeks checking every possible lead to no avail. On February 13, 2010 a shooting incident occurred in Union Township NJ in which a suspect was firing shots at the building of a closed liquor store in a parking lot along US Route 22. Responding officers arrested the armed suspect at the scene in commission of this crime. On February 18, 2010 the weapon was submitted to the Union County Police Firearms ID Unit for an Operability Study and input into the IBIS System as a miscellaneous shooting incident with property damage. The suspect in this incident was arrested, charged, and currently housed at the Union County Jail. The exam request was considered low priority and placed into the case backlog. On March 18, 2010 a Firearms Examiner conducted an Operability Study and submitted test shot cartridge casings to IBIS.
After correlation a “high confidence candidate” was identified. Firearms Examiners worked into the night retrieving the evidence and completing a microscopic comparison which ultimately linked the road rage shooting of the police officer to the firearm recovered by Union PD. After weeks of a stalled investigation the task force was able to make an arrest and charge the suspect in the attempted murder of this officer. This is a prime example of how two seemingly unrelated incidents can be linked together using today’s technology. Technology that makes finding that needle in a haystack not such a daunting task.