experts to address the issues raised by the computerized ballistic imaging technology. The Committee to Assess the Feasibility, Accuracy, and Technical Capability of a National Ballistics Database was asked to “assess the feasibility, accuracy and reliability, and technical capability of developing and using a national ballistics database as an aid to criminal investigations.” To accomplish this, the panel’s charge is to:

  1. Assess the technical feasibility, through analysis of the uniqueness of ballistic images, the ability of imaging systems to capture unique characteristics and to parameterize them, the algorithmic and computational challenges of an imaging database, the reproducibility of ballistic impressions and the ability of imaging systems to extract reproducible information from ballistic impressions.

  2. Assess the statistical probabilities that ballistics evidence presented would lead to a match with images captured in a database, whether and how the base rate can be estimated for those crimes that present bullet or casing evidence that do in fact come from a gun that produced a database entry, and the probabilities and consequences of false positives and false negatives.

  3. Assess the operational utility of ballistics evidence in criminal investigations—that is the extent to which it is used or can be used to identify crime guns and suspects and to solve specific crimes.

  4. Assess the sources of error in ballistics database matching (from examination, digitization, computer matching, chain of custody and documentation of tests, and expert confirmation), how they may be quantified, and how these errors interact.

The charge continues:

The committee’s work will provide scientific and technical knowledge to inform the government’s deliberations on three policy options with regard to ballistics databases:

  1. Maintain the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) on ballistics recovered from crime scenes. It is operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

  2. Enhance the NIBIN system so that it can be used to match crime scene evidence with the gun used.

  3. Establish a national ballistics database of images from bullets fired from all, or nearly all, newly manufactured or imported guns for the purpose of matching ballistics from a crime scene to a gun and information on its initial owner.

Addressing the issues raised by the tasks of the charge permitted the committee to provide guidance to NIJ on the three federal policy options. Specifically, for option 2, enhancing the NIBIN system, we address how

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