Understanding the Crime Gun Investigative Cycle: An Interview with Darrell Smith

NIBIN can be a key differentiator in helping local law enforcement agencies in their battle against gun crime, as we learned from Darrell Smith in this recent interview.

Join us to learn from the ATF’s Crime Gun Information Center Coordinator Darrell Smith and Cincinnati’s Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate to:

  • Understand the operational procedures that determine leads, the case research involved and how agencies are notified of a lead;
  • Learn the best practices for local agencies to follow-up on these leads, including prioritization and agency results.


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is specifically about building a crime gun intelligence program, the investigative cycle and how organizations like yours “bridge the gaps” among the various organizational players who help bring criminals to justice. Tell us about the program(s) you are involved with or have previously been involved with. 

Darrell Smith: I have been involved in the building of crime gun intelligence center (CGIC) programs in the Phoenix Metro area since its inception in 2012 and handle hundreds of NIBIN LEADs (A link between two or more cases, either by scene casings or a casing from a test fired gun) per year.  I am the CGIC coordinator for the states of Arizona and New Mexico.

Our CGIC program in Phoenix is unique in that we invite any Police Department in the State to participate in it.  To date, we have about 30 Departments that participate and conduct their own NIBIN entries.  The Phoenix CGIC also assists many other Departments, both local and Federal, whose personnel aren’t trained in NIBIN use.  The CGIC for New Mexico is also handled through me, however, their program involves only Albuquerque PD.

A Crime Gun Intelligence Center is important to have in place so a coordinator, such as myself, has the resources to look further into each involved NIBIN case and analyze them.  Our Crime Gun Intelligence Center not only utilizes NIBIN, but also intelligence that includes social media, eTrace, DNA, fingerprints, cell phone info, pawnshop info, ShotSpotter, etc., and consider them while completing an analysis.

Most general crimes detectives may not have access to some of the computer applications that we do.  In most cases, the NIBIN cases are “cold cases,” even if they are only a week old, and Detectives have had many more cases go across their desk.  They may also not have access to the linking case, especially if it is a different agency.

The CGIC coordinator can spend more time on them and pass on a quality investigative lead on a “silver platter.”  Having been a retired Phoenix PD Detective, [I know] having a coordinator that can analyze the cases and pass on an investigative strategy is very time-saving.  In my situation, when I am reviewing police reports resulting from a NIBIN LEAD, all reports, regardless if there are useful follow-up leads or not, are all analyzed and sent to the appropriate case agents.



“Our Crime Gun Intelligence Center not only utilizes NIBIN,

but also intelligence that includes social media, eTrace, DNA,

fingerprints, cell phone info, pawnshop info, ShotSpotter, etc.,

and consider them while completing an analysis.”

Darrell Smith



JCH: What are the biggest or most significant challenges in managing a crime gun intelligence program and bridging the gaps/building partnerships with the various organizations you work with? How have you overcome these challenges (or how have you seen these challenges overcome?)

Darrell: The most common challenge in beginning a Crime Gun Intelligence Center program usually lies in the crime lab setting.  The thought of lab personnel of having non-firearms examiner civilians (trained NIBIN techs) entering the crime lab setting to use NIBIN equipment is a struggle and almost unheard of.  Most labs use ASCLD as a reason for restricting non-lab personnel from entering, even though that should be a non-issue.  We, like others across the country, have found out that by removing the equipment from inside the lab walls solves any friction and, after a while, they realize that we just saved them a lot of time by utilizing the equipment ourselves.

Department policies regarding the handling of evidence is always an issue.  Specific policies must be in place so that it is clear what and when evidence can be accessed for NIBIN testing.  Most of the smaller agencies overcome this, however, a Department like Phx PD, still has only unwritten policies, like a gentleman’s agreement, in place to get the job done.

As prosecutors have become more educated about Crime Gun Intelligence Center information, they now welcome the information, especially when a case is going to trial.  They often use this information obtained through the CGIC for trial or when preparing for a plea.

In the beginning, there was not much cooperation between the CGIC and detectives.  We discovered that once we sent out NIBIN LEADs to the case agents, they were not being followed up.  Since then, we have developed great partnerships with all State, local and Federal agencies after meeting with Department heads and providing education and training.  ATF, in particular, is now responsible for working assigned NIBIN LEADs alongside with the respective local agency.  As a result of this coordination, many cases have been resolved and ended with arrests.  One important factor in gaining cooperation and trust is showing a quick resolution to a case.  Once they see that result, the detectives buy into the program.

One other process that we commit to is sending out an email to officers, crime scene techs, etc. who actually recovered the NIBIN LEAD evidence.  This allows us to tell them that what they did actually was important and their actions resulted in a NIBIN LEAD.

Lastly, we conduct a quarterly NIBIN meeting with all of the partners.  This is an opportunity to share concerns or accomplishments within the program as well as recognize a particular success story that was a result of the units hard work.


JCH: Thinking about the implementation of your program, how do you measure success? How was that success accomplished?  What have been the measureable results or “success stories” from your gun crime intelligence program?  

Darrell: Upon implementing the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, most agencies wanted all evidence, no matter how old, entered into NIBIN.  Some agencies had such a huge backlog that it would be impossible to complete that task.  It was also a thought that entering as much evidence into NIBIN as we could was a good thing to do, even though no one was following up on the LEADs.

After education, agencies now understand that only current and relevant evidence should be entered into NIBIN and follow-up is required.  Our partners now conform to that system and see current results.  Most agencies are current with their evidence entries, which result in timely leads for detectives.  Our partners test fire all guns that meet the relevant criteria, as well as enter all scene casings in a timely matter.  Some agencies do enter their evidence quicker than others, however, 99.9% of NIBIN techs in our program do it only part-time.  Because of manpower shortages with every department, they all have other duties such as secretarial, detectives, crime scene techs, etc., and still operate efficiently.

Once a NIBIN LEAD is realized, the information is sent out to the case agents within 24 hours.  Because of timely entries, success follows.  Our CGIC has had many success stories that included arrests for shots fired cases to homicides.  I can’t determine if a CGIC reduces overall crime, however, when an arrest is made, a serial shooter is taken off the streets, thus preventing any future shootings committed by that suspect.


JCH: Many our members will likely not have a crime gun intelligence program for their agency and so maybe have not embarked on exploring how to address these “gaps” between the organizations involved in crime fighting. Putting an advisory “hat” on for the moment, how would you advise them to get started – especially if funding is limited and staff are stretched thin?

Darrell: Agencies that are considering a Crime Gun Intelligence Center, regardless of their manpower, need to start out small within their Department, taking into consideration their current equipment, assets, staff, policies, and protocols.  They will determine what their best practices and policies that may need to be adjusted to make them successful.  Departments must draw a line in the sand as to what date to start with when determining what evidence to enter.  Because NIBIN is an ATF program, Departments must create a partnership with their local ATF office for assistance.  The office can provide assistance with training, procedures, manpower and following up on NIBIN LEADs.

If a department does not have NIBIN equipment, seek out the nearest NIBIN site and take evidence there.  If LEADs are developed, the Department will then need to create a system that would be responsible for tracking the LEADs and follow up.

Educating the upper management should be first, as most administrators aren’t familiar with the CGIC concept.



“…Because the focus has switched to concentrate on the timely,

relevant evidence that is entered into NIBIN,

the quality of the cases coming out of NIBIN is more effective,

resulting in better success for arrests.”

Darrell Smith



JCH: What do you think the biggest “myths” or misunderstandings law enforcement agencies/forensics/prosecutors have surrounding gun crime intelligence programs? 

Darrell: The general thinking from firearm examiners is that the equipment costs too much for what it does.  They feel that for the number of entries into NIBIN versus the number of LEADs is not worth the time.  The fact is that because the focus has switched to concentrate on the timely, relevant evidence that is entered into NIBIN, the quality of the cases coming out of NIBIN is more effective, resulting in better success for arrests.  NIBIN is the only database that has the capability to link crime scenes, serial shooters, etc., that otherwise, would go undetected.

Some agencies think that all NIBIN LEADs should be confirmed as an exact match by a firearms examiner prior to sending it out to a case agent for follow up.  Remember, NIBIN is just a tool, not considered probable cause and should be treated as such.  If the LEAD develops into an arrest then the evidence should be sent in for confirmation.  As a side note, agency’s that do not confirm every NIBIN LEAD, save the firearms examiner a lot of time that would otherwise be spent confirming LEADs that may not be worthy of follow-up (scene to scene incidents with no witnesses, suspects).

A very important part of a Crime Gun Intelligence Center is eTrace.  Investigators who are not familiar with eTrace and think that there is a gun registry and can get gun ownership at the push of a button.  eTrace will provide an investigator with a purchaser of a seized gun, however, it is the responsibility of the investigator to follow up with that purchaser to determine why their gun is in a crime scene.

As earlier described, Crime Gun Intelligence (CGI) encompasses many law enforcement tools and investigative options.  In this day of TV crime fighting, the public, and even recent juries, think that all possible investigative techniques should be exhausted.  In real life, because of various components such as manpower issues and workload backlogs, every technique cannot be conducted for every case.  The investigator has to make the difficult decision as to what techniques to employ.


JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?

Darrell: Crime Gun Intelligence Center information is important to anyone law enforcement personnel.  Once they hear the potential of what information one single cartridge casing or a gun has to offer, they will hopefully use this information routinely.  Prosecutors who are involved in ANY gun case should not proceed with the case without learning all they can from either NIBIN or eTrace.

Civilian personnel who may be responsible for reading and assigning cases may see that a case involves gun evidence that may be worthy of NIBIN entry. First responders would realize that any gun or found cartridge casing should be properly seized, impounded and entered into NIBIN instead of ignoring it.  That single piece of evidence may solve a homicide.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of “Gun Crime Investigative Cycle: Bridging the Gaps.”   

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