It’s a van that helps law enforcement solve mysteries, but don’t expect to find Scooby-Doo inside.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives unveiled a state-of-the art mobile forensic lab this week designed to travel around the country to help law enforcement probe cases involving guns.
The new van is the first of its kind and will become part of the agency’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which allows investigators to examine the markings left behind on casings expelled from fired guns and compare them to a database of other casings found at other crime scenes.
The van will go into service in the next two to three weeks and head to places where law enforcement might not have the resources to analyze ballistic evidence, said Jim Ferguson, chief of the Firearms Operations Division at ATF.
Like other facilities that analyze ballistic evidence, the van will allow technicians to capture digital images of the unique “fingerprint” that individual guns leave on spent bullets and cartridge cases and compare them to the network of “fingerprints” from other crime scenes.
The black and yellow van — complete with large screens, computers that create 3-D models and a microscope — is also equipped with a trailer where investigators can test fire confiscated weapons to compare the markings on casings with others entered in ATF database.
The idea is to connect casings to the work of a single gun to a series of crimes and eventually to the shooter, Ferguson said.
Connecting a casing from one scene to others expands the evidence available by multiplying the number of scenes and witnesses investigators can review.
ATF officials said if the mobile van is a success, it will consider creating others to grow the already expanding ballistic information network.
Ferguson said anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 items are entered into the network’s database monthly from 172 sites and 3,500 agencies nationwide, a jump from the roughly 10,000 to 12,000 monthly submissions two years ago.
“It’s an investigative tool,” Ferguson said. “We’re seeing a lot more results that we’ve seen in years past.”