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Fairfax County Police use new technology to get criminals off the streets

The law enforcement agency has acquired its own National Integrated Ballistic Information Network system and rapid DNA machine.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — As law enforcement departments across the country grapple with a rise in violence, the Fairfax County Police Department is taking a high-tech approach to getting criminals off the street.

That technology is housed at the McConnell Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center, where FCPD's Crime Scene detectives operate. It's a department comprised of 20 sworn detectives that handled more than 2,300 cases over the last year, according to the department. The workload is heavy, as many departments are experiencing rising crime rates across the country. 

However, it's the work behind the scenes that many don't get to witness. The detectives are also chemists, photographers and mathematicians. 

Walking through the department's lab, it looks like it's straight out of a crime scene drama. There are vials with chemicals and professionals in white coats analyzing evidence with lasers and high-tech cameras that can pick up evidence the naked eye can't see.

Credit: WUSA

While detectives work around the clock, the department has acquired new technology that could have the potential to change the way crimes are solved in the county. The department purchased its own NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) system and is piloting a Rapid DNA machine. Both would save the departments months of time to get results on ballistic testing and DNA.

NIBIN is a tool through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). An NIBIN system automates ballistics evaluations and provides actionable investigative leads in a timely manner, per the ATF's website. NIBIN's database can track if the same gun was used in other crimes by analyzing a special imprint that is left on the bullet casing. It's essentially a fingerprint for a firearm.

Credit: WUSA
Trained detectives enter bullet cartilages that are found at crime scenes and then compare it with other bullets found in the NIBIN system.

“NIBIN is facilitated and run by the ATF and our own system here in Fairfax is one of the few within the state or the region," said Second Lt Andrew Smuck, the Second Lieutenant in charge of FPCD's Crime Scene Section. "Many departments do not have their own NIBIN system, we’re fortunate enough now to have our own system and be able to examine our own recovered firearms and cartilage cases from our own scenes."

Smuck said the department's first NIBIN submission resulted in a hit based on a neighboring jurisdiction's case.

Results from the NIBIN system provide leads for detectives, which can lead to arrests before other crimes are committed. 

“We can recover evidence whether it be a firearm or cartilage cases from the scene, analyze that evidence and submit it in approximately 90 minutes whereas before if we were sending it to a lab it would take several months,” Smuck said. "It’s a huge difference.”

Credit: WUSA
Each firearm leaves a distinct marking. NIBIN allows investigators to compare markings on other recovered shells.

The two new pieces of technology come with a hefty price tag, making them not as accessible for every department. Smuck said the NIBIN system itself is approximately $200,000 with additional costs for training and upkeep. 

The Rapid DNA machine would cost the department $160,000. The department currently has one for detectives to get familiar with before potentially buying their own. 

"These systems and technology now provide us with investigative leads that we can have potentially within a few hours or even while we’re still working the crime scene whereas before we’d have to come back, process that evidence, submit it for examination, wait for the results to come back which could take months or even longer," Smuck said. 

FCPD is the only department in the region to have its own NIBIN system and Rapid DNA system. Smuck said he believes FCPD is only one of a handful of agencies, including the state lab, that has a NIBIN system. He says the department is one of only a few agencies that have Rapid DNA.

"It’s a huge gamechanger. It obviously benefits the Fairfax County Police Department and the citizens of Fairfax County, but working with other agencies and neighboring agencies they end up benefiting from the same technology we’re benefiting from and potentially helping them to close their cases much quicker than they were previously able to do," Smuck said. 

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