Webinar presenters Addison Owen, Jessica Ellefritz, and Ron Nichols answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Making NIBIN an Organizational Lifestyle. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What percent of partners adopted a comprehensive collection and how long did that take?
Jessica Ellefritz: Yes. Absolutely. I’m assuming that question’s pertaining to our surrounding agencies when you, like, say partners?
Aaron (host): Yes. I think that’s exactly right.
Jessica Ellefritz: Yeah, exactly. There have been several but certainly not all of them. I believe our partners in Glendale are doing everything comprehensively. They’re moving really fast. Not only did they buy their own equipment not that long ago and get their own site up and running but they have really built up their program to include getting all their evidence collected and processed immediately. Their program has really done well. We still have some of the smaller agencies that have not had the same level of executive support to be really able to push their program through as far as the timeliness goes. We are working to potentially help them. I know that our ATF partners are really working heavily with some of them to get their programs up and running. I know Chandler PD recently got their own system up and running and ATF has been working with them quite a bit to get tied in to get their evidence processed quickly. It’s definitely still growing. Having them on board is tremendous. But you’re correct, to get all those surrounding agencies to the same level of speed and comprehensiveness that we have is going to take time. We were lucky that we had the kind of help, garnered that support. We can reach out and provide some assistance to those agencies. We do all our own training in-house here. I’ve trained a lot of the other agencies in the acquisition-stuff, so that helped. We can provide some support to those agencies but it’s still up to their own executive levels to be able to really dedicate and make the changes, to make it happen as comprehensively as it needs to. I hope that answers the question.
Audience Question: If you might be able to share model agreements or MOUs for that CGIC NIBIN agreement with prosecutors?”
Addison Owen: Yes. Absolutely. We do not have a formal MOU between the prosecutor’s office and the Phoenix police department. What has happened is there have been high-level meetings between the two agencies where we discussed different concerns and things we foresaw as problems. That worked out in that way. There is not a formal MOU between those two agencies. Most of the MOUs, it is my understanding, are between Phoenix and other law enforcement agencies. Obviously, all jurisdictions are a little bit different. In Arizona, at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, we do not direct investigations. Doing something like that might be considered directing the investigations. We do have very competent law enforcement officers and a wonderful lab that makes those decisions. We just need to be able to understand them and to be able to tell a jury or explain to the jury why there is or is not certain evidence.
Audience Question: Is Phoenix swabbing evidence prior to submitting for NIBIN?
Jessica Ellefritz: Sure. The way we handle that again in partnership with our lab and our County Attorney’s office. We came up with 3 tiers for how we are processing our evidence. For our most violent crimes: homicide, our officer-involved incidents, anything considered a high priority. For those specific incidents, we are still allowing our investigators to make a determination after prints and DNA prior to coming to NIBIN. With that being said, it is our most violent incidents where we have the highest level of support from our investigators when it comes to NIBIN. What we have done is, our homicide groups specifically, we actually go out to the homicide scenes and retrieve the firearms or the evidence casings directly from the crime scene or one of the detectives will drive it the office to drop it off. We process that immediately. For that, what we’re doing… we are swabbing only the areas of the firearms we have to touch in order to shoot the gun. This again is in agreement with everybody. We’re swabbing, you know, the handle. We’re swabbing the trigger, swabbing any of the buttons and the levers. We’re swabbing the front side and the muzzle. But our civilian staff that’s processing the gun and actually doing the test firing, it’s what we call clean testing (audio issue 1:12:10). They’re wearing lab coats, they’re wearing gloves, everything is getting bleached down. And they are (audio issue 1:12:17) that firearm. They’re not collecting (audio issue 1:12:19) prior to use. We are only swabbing the areas that we have to touch and only to preserve potential DNA. That is how we are handling the gun. The evidence casing? We actually change the procedures on evidence casing a few years back. All of our casing are impounded in plastic snap-top vials with the head stump up. That was a whole training that we did at our patrol level, at our crime scene level, detective level where they go up to the crime scene with their little small plastic vials. They’re clear and see-through and they got little plastic lids and you pop the lid off. What that allows us to do is we can then, with the casing still in the vial, we can pre-screen all our casings under a microscope without ever having to touch them. What that allows us to do is select whichever one casing we’re going to enter and that one casing is the only thing that we’re going to swab prior to entry. It allows us to preserve all the other casings that are collected for the crime lab to process at a later time if they determine that it is needed. That allows us to do the entry on the casing without having to handle any of the other casings but still being capable of screening all of them to confirm which one we want to enter into the system or how many guns we have, that sort of thing. For Tier 1s, we are swabbing… by we, I mean our civilian staff that’s doing all the NIBIN processing have all been trained by our crime lab in simple DNA collection. How to swab to collect and preserve DNA. They’re leaving all the smooth areas of the gun available for further DNA and print at a later time. Our Tier 2 crimes would be your weapon cases, your Agg. Assault, that sort of thing. On those types of cases, whether not Tier 1, the determining factor for the firearm is documented possession or not documented possession. If a firearm is physically pulled off a person then we are not swabbing prior to shooting. We’re simply using the same techniques. Shooting the gun to collect the casings. Then they can submit that gun for prints and DNA if they want to, after the fact. If a gun is recovered any place else including in a backpack on the person, if it’s collected in a vehicle under a seat, in every one of those situations we are again swabbing only the areas we have to touch in order to shoot the gun and documenting it as such in the report. The rest of the firearm, the magazine, the holster, the live ammunition… everything else involved with the firearm is available for prints and DNA. The remaining surfaces of the firearm are available for prints and DNA. We went through some training with our folks to document… something as simple as that magazine was removed from that gun because with our crime lab and I’m sure several others, their ability to pull prints and DNA of a magazine is a heck of a lot better than it is off of a gun. There is some training involved in all of that and then again, very heavily, that agreement with our attorneys to allow us to be able to do it that way.
Audience Question: Does your policy test all guns booked in, including those booked for safekeeping, destruction or damage property into NIBIN or just evidence guns?
Jessica Ellefritz: We are currently only doing evidence guns. But that term can be used somewhat loosely in our book. The way that we justify it is: if we have a reason to believe that firearm was and could have been used in a crime. In our record management system, our officers and our crime scene folks when they impound, they have the option of evidence, safekeeping, personal property. There are all these different categories they have to choose from. So, at blanket level, we’re only pulling ones that are classified as evidence. However, we will allow and have told our investigators that if in the course of their investigation they have any reason to believe that the individual, maybe it started off as being impounded as safekeeping but then we find additional information out that maybe not necessarily related to that incident but to other incidents or that person’s tendencies, maybe they have other violence in their history but that specific one… we will utilize that to be able to say that, “Yes, we do have reasons to believe that could have been eventually used in a crime.” It’s not necessarily a blanket yes or no based of that one specific impound code. We allow it to be interpreted on a case by case basis.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Making NIBIN an Organizational Lifestyle.