BCSO adds forensic ballistic bullet trap to its investigation arsenal

By Boundary County Sheriff David Kramer

The Boundary County Sheriff’s Office recently received a Project Safe Neighborhood grant through the University of Idaho, used to purchase a forensic bullet trap that will allow investigators to test fire weapons that may have been involved in a crime, enabling them to gather of crucial ballistic information that can be used to help identify weapons and projectiles.

A forensic ballistic bullet trap is a portable system that can be used to fire the weapon(s) into and gather the fired bullet and cartridge case. The trap is engineered to absorb the energy of a bullet, while the bullet and fired casing integrity remains intact. Every firearm leaves distinctive marks on a fired cartridge case upon firing, like fingerprints.

Once test fired, the cartridge case is secured as evidence and submitted to the Idaho State Police, where it can be analyzed to determine if the weapon had been used in any crimes. The Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) stores, correlates, compares, and retrieves digital images of fired cartridge cases. Cartridge cases from a crime scene or test fired cartridge cases from a recovered firearm are submitted to this database for possible matching.

The Sheriff’s Office feels that one of the best ways to protect the rights of lawful firearms owners is to hold those who commit crimes with firearms responsible for their actions. This trap will help connect firearms used in crimes to the crime.

The Sheriff’s Office will also test fire weapons from other local law enforcement agencies at their request if the weapon has been suspected of being used in a crime. Only firearms involved in a crime or that have come into the possession of a law enforcement agency will be tested and submitted.

Boundary County Sheriff’s Detective Dave McClelland demonstrates the use of the forensic bullet trap.

Bonner County Sheriff’s Department also received a Project Safe Neighborhood grant, and according to their Detective Phillip Stella, “Having a complete appreciation for the NIBIN system, and a love for our neighboring communities … We were approved for the Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant also. However, it would be very safe to say that without the NIBIN system a Bonner County murder case would still be unsolved and a murderer still loose in North Idaho.”

According to Boundary County Sheriff’s Detective Dave McClelland, this will be a very useful tool and program to identify or eliminate guns that may have been used in a crime. The Sheriff’s Office is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but we want to hold the criminals responsible when they make the choice to use a firearm in a crime.

Helping us integrate the forensic ballistic bullet trap into our investigative processes will be Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Mike Kelley, who retired to Boundary County after a career with law enforcement agencies both civilian and the military. He specialized in firearms ballistic identification and crimes with firearms. With his role in the military, he established a crime lab in Iraq and obtained equipment for his lab to do the ballistic testing under a program called sniper defeat.

Their primary focus was working cases that involved the enemy. Within about the first two months of having this ballistic testing equipment (IBIS), they were able to match evidence to an enemy sniper rifle. He said that getting the crime lab established and having the proper equipment to capture and compare ballistic evidence was an asset to the military in Iraq in combatting sniper attacks against US soldiers. Kelley was also involved in Afghanistan in follow-up investigation following the death of US Army Ranger Pat Tillman who had left a career with the NFL to serve our country, killed in 2004 in Spera Khost Province, Afghanistan.

There had been conflicting information at first whether he had been killed by enemy fire or friendly fire. Kelley determined that it was friendly fire.

Systems such as the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS)/ National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) join other systems like Automated fingerprint identification (AFIS) and Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) to help law enforcement agencies connect people to crimes and help solve current and cold cases.