State police call for scrapping ballistic-identification program

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A law requiring gun makers to provide state police with ballistic information is ineffective and should be repealed, with the money put to better use, says a report by the Maryland State Police.

No criminal cases have been helped by the Integrated Ballistics Identification System, or IBIS, which began in 2000, according to the report.

"The program has not yielded any investigative results in four years," said Sgt. Robert A. Moroney, a state police spokesman.

The idea behind the law was to amass a database of ballistic markers. Manufacturers selling handguns in Maryland are required to test-fire them and send the cartridge casings to state police technicians, who make a digital image of the unique markings of each casing and enter them into a database for later comparison. The number of images collected for the database has fallen far short of projections, the report says.

Issued in September and recently given to state lawmakers, the report says the program has cost more than $2.5 million.

The report recommends that the program be suspended, that the law requiring the collection of the ballistic information be repealed and that the laboratory technicians associated with the program be transferred to the DNA database unit.

The conclusions of the report, compiled by the Forensic Sciences Division, somewhat reverse a report written a year before, which said that though the program had not been successful, improvements in technology and more time could make a difference.

The 2003 report compares the system with the state DNA database, arguing that "it needs time to bear fruit."

The 2003 report also noted flaws with the system, however. Among them: the inability to link IBIS to a similar national ballistics database, and the fact that the types of guns being submitted to IBIS are often not the types linked to crimes.

Those flaws still exist, and another full year with no results was enough for the police to advocate scrapping the program, Moroney said.

But Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire Maryland, said that the program could be retooled to be effective and that the lack of success so far can partially be attributed to its lack of use by the state police and other law enforcement agencies.

She said the database has been queried only 200 times, producing six responses, none of which has been used in criminal trials.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had no comment yesterday, saying the report was being reviewed.

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