After the Webinar: From NIBIN Lead to an Arrest – How Do You Get There? Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Gerald Sloan, Tyson Mertlich, and Jeff Russell answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Fron a NIBIN Lead to an Arrest… How do you get there? Here are just a few of their responses


Audience Question: Do you have any state agency involvement there at RAVEN? 

Tyson Mertlich: So, our state agency that we would typically use is the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. We have close ties there, in fact, I used to work for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, but we are working to get them all a seat on the task force. We haven’t done that yet.


Audience Question: What software do you use to enhance the video? But I have to tell you, a number of people are asking very similar questions about the different software programs that you’re using for all the different data visualizations that you’re using. 

Tyson Mertlich: Yeah, we use, we are fortunate at RAVEN to have access to a lot of different software, the videos, which I’m sure being referenced with the highlighting the scooter shooter. That was a program called Camtasia that I used. It’s just basically a screen recording and video editing software. And when I say enhance, I don’t mean that I’m actually going and doing what is shown on like CSI or whatever, I mean brightening and enlightening the image up. We do also use. We have somebody on the task force who has a program called Amped Five, which is a program that can help do a little bit more of enhancement to images and things like that, which we’ve had success with. The other software that we used in some of these visualizations was Google Earth obviously, which is pretty easy and simple. But the one that we use for cellular data and GPS location kind of visualization and plotting, we often use the software called Nighthawk, which allows us to more easily compile and interpret digital evidence.


Audience Question: Are you using timelines to visualize the datasets and if so, in what manner? 

Tyson Mertlich: So,  Gerald could probably answer this as well. But from my perspective, I do use programs like i2, which was shown up here. But I find that i2 gets a little bit too granular at times. And so, I often, for my timelines, kind of like Gerald discussed already, is I all use PowerPoint just to kind of highlight the timeline of it. It’s linear, it’s progressive. It makes a lot of sense to go from a chronological standpoint and we’ve found that that has been easier to digest. And when it comes to presenting it to juries or DAs, or anybody else, it’s just intuitive. So, it doesn’t require a ton of explaining by doing it that way.


Audience Question: What kind of search warrant training for social media do you recommend? 

Gerald Sloan: Well, at the Task Force, we’re fortunate that we have a good resource, a good DA that’s kind of staying up to date with the technology. So, I would say, be more or less of getting with your local DA and kind of pitching these ideas such as Facebook trap and traces, Instagram trap and traces, Snapchat, and your Google warrants. We’ve done warrants for Google keyword searches. We have done warrants on specialty tower dumps. Just more or less, getting what the DA and kind of build nice templates, because we have tons of templates that we can share with anybody, and kind of see what goes well within your jurisdiction. It really is about building that relationship, I think, with the DA. That last couple of slides, with the YouTube monetization data that I have come about, because the typical YouTube warrant that we were getting back was not giving us any of that monetization data. So, I reached out to the DA that Gerald’s referencing. And said, “Hey, can we do this?” And she and I sat down for a couple of hours, went through it, and came up with a process by which we could create a warrant template that would get that data and it was really useful. So, forging those connections with your DAs is really helpful.


Audience Question: Have you done this same data correlation using cell phone geolocation data instead of an ankle bracelet GPS data? 

Tyson Mertlich: Yes. So, in some of our cases, we found that when we do our cell phone dumps or forensic downloads, we’re able to pull some of that location services and overlaid it with ShotSpotter data, and location, of offenses. At times though, you have to figure out where that data is being derived at. So, a lot of times when you do, you’re doing your forensic download. It may not give you a data source of how they’re generating this GPS. So that’s the biggest thing is, I don’t plot anything that I can confidently identify where it came from, where it was derived from. Which is why a lot of the time it goes back to those warrants when we can get certified data from the providers themselves, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, whatever it may be utilize that data because it’s certified by the providers. And one thing that I would caution against when using that is is it’s good to have a cursory understanding that when it comes to putting this together, it’s important that when we’re putting it together for presentations for court and things like that. We have a peer review process here at RAVEN that we go through when we have digital and cell site location information types of data to corroborate it with because it is easy enough to create little missteps in an interpretation of that data.

Audience Question: How do you select which NIBIN cases are eligible for task force investigation? Is there a triage process for the case selection?

Gerald Sloan: Yes, So, there is a triage, we have a tier one, tier two, and tier three, and based on the level, the tier, it will get assigned to us. So, a lot of times, there are so many. Like Denver right now we’re running rampant with shootings right now. So, the ideal thinking is we take the case either has a gun recovered, or there is a serial amount of shootings that we can possibly develop. So, there it is triaged through the supervisors as well as through our NIBIN conduits, our NIBIN contractors, and triage, and they push it out to the investigators.


Audience Question: What resources databases, specific to gun and violent crimes, would you recommend or suggest for an analyst? 

Tyson Mertlich: I mean, I’m going to kind of cheat and say that ATF has a lot of that stuff. We have NESS. We have crime gun information analytics and a bunch of stuff. So, if you have an ATF partner that has information, it’s great to go in for that. E-trace is one that we use a lot of. But honestly, one of the big things to do is ensure that if you have a NIBIN program where you are, ensure that it is your labs are processing those in a timely manner. That’s like the number one thing for us. If we can get our crime data processed quickly, then it is so much more impactful to be able to quickly and immediately make a difference as opposed to say it takes 3, 4, 5 weeks to get that data, the shell casings analyzed, and processed. Well, then, it may, you may have lost your gun at that time. It may have switched hands. So, it’s really understanding that you have a good relationship with your crime labs that have the NIBIN process capability.


Audience Question: When you make spreadsheets for NIBIN leads with different guns, is this something you routinely enter as the notifications come in, or is it something you do for a certain time frame for specific cases? 

Tyson Mertlich: So, yeah, it depends on the case, but that case that I showed my spreadsheets for, specifically, those were real-time shootings that were happening. I was documenting those, as they were happening, as we were getting those notifications. And we have like a 24-hour turnaround for most of our labs, so I was getting those and within 24 hours of those shootings, I was updating those spreadsheets. Ensuring that they were there. So that we could stay on top of that and make sure that our investigative efforts and our enforcement efforts were coordinated, in a way as to be impactful and timely.


Audience Question: Do you get microscopic confirmations from labs? 

Tyson Mertlich: So, there are two problems, we get a lead, and we get a hit. So, when we get either a lead or a hit, it’s enough to kind of get you on the ground running. Then when you actually need to make a second examination, you make a request. And we’re able to do further examinations and make sure the shell casings do that. So, they gave us a hit, showing that there was a hit between the shell casings and a lead is it needs to have a further review. But it’s enough to kind of get us on the ground running, to try to disrupt the balance. And that’ll come from the different labs that you work with. We work with several different labs. Some due process in which, because of the amount of cases that they’re receiving and the time that it takes to do those the microscopic confirmations are more time-consuming for those labs. You can always send those through to the ATF lab, and then have that taken care of. But usually, we’re waiting until that is done for like trial because most of the time, the lead is, is enough to get you going. Just like Gerald said.


Audience Question: When you are writing tower dumps, etc., are you confirming that NIBIN leads first through a firearm examiner or are you just using the leads based on the totality of the circumstances?

Gerald Sloan: So, in Denver, we’re unique, because the groundwork has been laid, the foundation have been laid about how these leads are coming about. So, yes, so, we do use that information that we get off of the lead and we document it in the search warrant to dump the towers and to do those type of warrants. So, yes, that information that we do get, we do use it. Then, as we progress, we will request for a secondary examination, but the foundation has been led that anything that comes out of the lab based on that either hit or lead that is a usable information.


Audience Question: Are your street staff collecting geo-coordinates as they gather DCC, or casing collections at all scenes? 

Tyson Mertlich: No. You have to read the question again. But from our standpoint is, typically a shooting occurs, unless it’s a homicide, it’s a little different, but the resources that are dumped in is basically just at the patrol standpoint of collecting shell casing and then doing the initial investigation.


Audience Question: Is it possible to get NESS direct download sent to our crime analysts or is the only way to get the info is to log in to NESS and search for our agency? 

Tyson Mertlich: Yeah. There are issues with getting it direct, and making those bridges. I believe there are plans to do that. But for the most part, logging into NESS is going to be your best way. Though, if you do have, again, ATF contacts, they may have more comprehensive information, and it may be easier to just go through them.


Audience Question: If we don’t have an analyst, what is the training or education required? And how long does it take to get the analyst up to speed on all the different systems and programs they should use? 

Tyson Mertlich: I will say, from an analyst standpoint, I started as an analyst just being an intern. I had no formal training as an analyst at that point. I had just graduated with my master’s in forensic psychology. So, I have nothing tangentially related. And so, really, anybody has the capability, I think, of being an analyst. It’s just the way you look at the data and being familiar with your programs, and how you do it, that you can do it. I would argue that a number of our task force officers, agents, and investigators here at RAVEN are analyst-quality level of what they do with different things. So, it really is just putting the reps in and understanding what you’re doing. There are different things I would check with your local HIDTA. I know that, like I went to a HIDTA task force training in Arizona. They have basic-level analysts courses, which are really valuable. And all of HIDTA  trainings are all free. So, it allows you to go and do that. And there’s a lot of things like that, out there that are really valuable. But, like, honestly, it’s just talking to people and knowing how it works, and then asking for help where you need it. And I’m happy to answer any of those types of questions if anybody wants to reach out.

Host: So, it’s not like you have to be an IT Jedi master or to be able to, or a masters in tech or something like that to do what you do?

Tyson Mertlich: You do not. Analysts are essentially the same as your officers in a lot of ways, in that you’ve got bright ones, and you’ve got not so great ones, and it’s all about the application of the person doing the job.


Audience Question: What do you do when you don’t have the perfect scenario with ShotSpotter and GPS? For example, several shootings, we had no witnesses or video. A year later, someone has caught with a gun and the shell casing from the gun matches, the shooting shell casings. How do you prove a person with the gun did the previous shootings? 

Gerald Sloan: Well, the biggest thing that we typically do is if we have a series of shootings. Unfortunately, if you, got to kind of work it from the standpoint of doing tower dumps, analyzing the suspect’s cell phone, requesting the CDRs, and kind of work backwards. A lot of times, it’s the same thing that happens with us at the task force will make there’ll be an arrest of an individual with a gun. And now you see that the gun is linked to eight different shootings all within a year. So, it is more or less of working backwards and trying to create tower information, doing Google geofence law warrants, doing something, like kind of help you link that individual to those shootings.

Tyson Mertlich: And at the end of the day in that scenario where a year later, after the shootings, you have recovered a gun, the likelihood of having that gun in the possession of the person who has committed these shootings originally, is probably not great. But what you can do is, is start looking into that individual and why they have that gun on them. And you have to just trace it backwards, just like Gerald saying. And an interview sometimes can be one of the biggest, most important parts of that is they’ll tell you. They don’t want to get charged with those shootings we’ve had. We had a shooting in Denver where an officer was shot. And that gun got traded off a couple of times, and it was eventually recovered. There were not a lot of leads on that one, and the interview in which that occurred, the suspect that was being interviewed, did not want to get charged with shooting a police officer. And so, he was willing to tell about, “Hey, I got this gun from so and so,” which got us to the next person. You found the next person. They got it from so and so, and it led you all the way back. It’s following those breadcrumbs.


Audience Question: What’s a HIDTA? And could you spell what it is you’re saying? She’s referencing the place with the free training. 

Tyson Mertlich: Yes, yes, Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. It’s a program for our region. It’s the Rocky Mountain region. But they are divided up across the nation. It is a congressionally funded program in which they specifically are providing trainings. But also, resources. I used to work for a HIDTA, and they have a lot of resources. Even if you are not doing narcotics investigations. It’s worth checking into, at the very least. They don’t care what kind of investigation you’re doing; they’re offering free training. And that’s, again, spelled HIDTA.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Fron a NIBIN Lead to an Arrest… How do you get there?  



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