Thursday, December 4, 2008

Microstamping: Improving the Value of Trace Evidence

Why is it that I like trace evidence people? It seems to have a lot to do with their ability to see the bigger picture. Over the last 14 years, I have been introduced to a number of interesting people within the forensic community, but what I have gleaned is that trace evidence people do not tend to look at their careers as static and bureaucratic.

Recently I read a technical paper written by a group of Australian forensic scientists which was titled, “Forensic Science in the 21st century- Will Trace Evidence Ever Reach the Next Level?”[1]

What a great article to read and one that emphasized the fact that forensic science is dynamic and always evolving. Of special note was how forensic science and the methods used have been valued. As indicated in the paper, DNA and fingerprint evidence are more valuable than other forms of evidence when trying to identify or confirm a persons guilt or innocence, however other trace evidence can provide valuable leads or information for reconstructing the crime. The paper provides some very good insight into the future evolution of the science of forensics and the need for increased development of new tools and techniques.

What stuck me was the fact that microstamping is evolutionary as well. Evolving from traditional firearm and tool mark examination, microstamping simply took the next step – the use of intentional tool markings, instead of relying only on unintentional tool marks.

A benefit of microstamping is that it doesn’t replace traditional firearm and tool mark analysis, it augments it. By leveraging highly trained forensic firearm examiners and their existing equipment and infrastructure, microstamping offers new opportunities to generate leads, when firearms are not recovered at the crime scene.

The Australian forensic scientists, who wrote the paper, summed up the true value of all trace evidence and by default the value of microstamping when they surmised that the value of trace evidence does not only reside in its ability to be used in court, but in its ability to provide information for; “reconstructing the crime scene, or a series of events, identifying links between different cases or, more broadly, systematically analyzing large scale criminal phenomena. The value of integrating traditional forensic evidence with other dimensions of the investigative process has recently been highlighted by research in an area known as forensic intelligence. In our opinion, although rapidly growing, the novel application of forensic science data is still under exploited.”[1]

We recommend reading the full article to understand the challenges faced by today’s forensic scientists.

[1] Roux, C, et al, “Forensic Science in the 21st Century- Will Trace Evidence Ever Reach the Next Level?” (NIJ / FBI) Trace Evidence Conference, August 2007

Firearm Industry Representative Gigantic Blunder!!! : Using RFID Firearm Tracking Technology To Discredit Microstamping

During testimony in Connecticut, March 17th, 2008, at the request of the firearm industry representative groups who say they are protecting our 2nd amendment rights, the head of New Product Development and the Chief Counsel from a Connecticut Firearms producer, bungled an attempt to discredit microstamping. See the video on the Connecticut legislature website.

How did they do this? In simple terms they publicly acknowledged and emphasized that because they failed to apply laser technology to make appropriate 2D barcodes for tracking military firearms that they ended up opting for RFID tracking.

Why is this significant? It means they publicly stated that they have successfully implemented Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID) to track each individual firearm from their manufacturing facility to their final destination.
The Firearm Co. from Connecticut stated during testimony that they are implementing RFID to military firearms. As is always the case, they focused on crates first and testified that they now have been placing the RFID tags on individual firearm boxes and next based on military press releases, the military wants RFID tags on the rifles and pistols themselves.

So, according to the firearm indsutry representatives microstamping which is passive and benign, is supposedly EVIL!!! And to prove it they bring forward a firearms company from Connecticut who testify the use of ACTIVE Radio Frequency ID tags is better. What kind of strategy is this?

RFID is an ACTIVE tagging device, which can be read from a distance and be used to track where you are if you conceal carry. What was the industry representative thinking about? Who is planning the testimony strategies? Whose idea was it to use the success of RFID tagging and tracking for military firearms as the best way to discredit microstamping?

Microstamping of firearms is simple, passive, cost effective and benign. Microstamping also allows the industry to control its destiny and protect against the use of RFID or ammunition serialization.

Microstamping provides the firearms industry a bridge to ensure the protection of 2nd amendment rights while creating a partnership with law enforcement to help reduce illegal trafficking of small arms to criminal networks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Microstamping Research Paper Published

A new research paper was presented at the SPIE Optics & Technology Conference in San Diego, August 2008. The paper was part of the Optical Technologies for Arming, Safing, Fusing and Firing IV Conference and introduced research covering the testing of a Colt 1991 A1, 1911 style, .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol.

This represents the first peer reviewed publication of fully optimized and current state of the art microstamping technology as applied to firearms. Over the last 14 years, the invetors of the technology, Todd Lizotte and Orest Ohar have presented their work informally due to the proprietary nature of the technology. Since they have offered the technology royalty free for domestic civilian markets, further archive datasets are going to be shared with the scientific community.

So far many of the research papers, such as the UC Davis study which was a wear study of the firing pins themselves and others, had all utilized R&D test pins that were never optimized to the specific firearms that were being tested. Even with this worse case scenario, the results from these non-optimized firearm were still very good, if not remarkable.

The SPIE paper discloses the power of the the extraction method for forensic benefit, a key feature over looked by all other research papers. A unqiue feature of the research paper was a very basic comparison of microstamping in relation to existing methods of firearms identification. It should be stated, microstaming is an evolution of firearms identification, it augments the science - It doesn't replace it.

The SPIE research reported a 1500 round test of a 1991 A1 (1911) model firearm that was fully optimized. It consistantly had an extraction rate of >90% over teh entire 1500 rounds. Extraction is the process of assembling the code found on the cartrdiges at a crime scene. The 1991 A1, .45 ACP semiautomatic firearm had an extraction rate of >90% with a single cartridge and ~98% when two cartrdiges are found at a crime scene.

Pivotal Developmnet is presenting a comprehensive series of research and application papers next year which will show some of the latest data completed in 2008.

7th LIVE FIRE Microstamping Demonstration

The 7th Microstamping Live Fire Demonstration took place on November 18th in Trumbull, Connecticut. We brought a surprise to this event since opponents always attempt to quote and use the UC Davis study as an example of how Microstamping doesn’t work with small calibers or rim fire cartridges, such as .22 LR.

The surprise was a brand new demonstration model that was added to the line up, a .22 LR Ruger Mark III. The Ruger Mark III was brought to the live fire demonstration and fired by the Trumbull police department range officer.

The Ruger Mark III worked flawlessly and had been fired >500 times prior to its arrival at the test in Connecticut. We continue to educate and explain to people that the UC Davis study focused on wear characteristics and since we were not allowed access to the firearms or perform a cycle of fire analysis of test fired cartridges, it was impossible to optimize the firearms. Our demonstration model Ruger Mark III, clearly shows that when testing microstamping in terms of a method of improving the quality of forensic evidence, optimization is critical. With over 14 years of development, Pivotal Development has created a very straightforward optimization process that can match the microstamping elements to the dynamics of the firearm, ensuring a high degree of extractability of the code from cartridge evidence.

A number of Police Chiefs were in attendance for the demonstration and the presentation.

Here is a list of live fire demonstrations that have taken place:

1st 5/22/06 CHP range in Sacramento, CA

2nd 7/27/06 Boston Police Department in Boston, MA

3rd 6/18/07 Capital City Police Department, Washington DC

4th 8/14/07 Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles, CA

5th 3/3/08 Hartford Police Department, Hartford, CT

6th 5/19/08 New York State Police, Albany, NY

7th 11/18/08 Trumbull Police Department, Trumbull, CT

If you would like to have a live demonstration at your law enforcement facility, please give us a call at Microstamping Technology Center 1-203-304-2452

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Monday, December 31, 2007

Our S&W 4006 Microstamping Test Vehicle - Hits ~3200 Rounds & Counting

As of December 18th, 2007 the Microstamping S&W 4006 Test Vehicle has hit the ~3200 round mark. In late November the S&W 4006 was handed to the armorer at the Providence Police departmet for a live fire demonstration of microstamping. S&W truely manufacturers a remarkable firearm. The S&W 4006 was the side arm of the CHP in California, but was replaced by a newer S&W model. Oue S&W 4006 shows considerable dynamic stability even when fired in rapid succession. We beleive this stability is based on the quality of the workmanship and the particular mechanism design of S&W semiautomatic pistols. We should hit ~5000 rounds by mid/late 2008. We have a number of firearms being tested and currently our focus is on rim fire .22 cal pistols.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ruger Mark III (RimFire .22 Cal) - Testing Underway

Well, we have been testing a variety of firearms and getting ready to offer the royalty free license to firearms manufacturers in the United States for the civilian firearms market, starting in January. We have already begun talking to manufacturers who have preemptively come to us seeking to get the ball rolling.

One question that has kept coming up was about the UC Davis study is about rimfire. What many people do not understand, is that we told the researcher at UC Davis that what they were testing was a R&D project, since we were not allowed access to the firearms or to optimize the firearms.

One specific model pointed out as a complete failure by UC Davis was the .22 cal Ruger Mark II. We were specific about the Ruger Mark II that they were using, since it had serious wear and tear and oxidation and since we could not evaluate the firearms dynamics, taking into consideration its operation and the condition it was in, it would fail. This is a guarantee without running the optimization protocol, i.e. allowing us to analyze the firearms dynamics and then match the characters geometry to those dynamics. On three separate occasions in emails we stated without question that the .22 cal test would probably not work out. We had requested fired cartridges so we could get a better understanding, but the graduate student did not have access to the firearms, since they were held at the CA DOJ.

So, when asked about why it failed, we always tell people, the UC Davis project confirmed our findings back from 1996, if you do not optimize the microstamp to the dynamics of the firearm, it doesn't work well. It is simply shake and bake, you set an experiment to fail, it will fail. We had hoped the UC Davis project was about the graduate student applying forensic methods to analyze the potential benefits or to extract the characters. What happened was disappointing, but in the end as the UC Davis Chancellor states, this project was not commissioned by the legislature or the California Policy Research Center.

Since, people are concerned, we decided to create a special test on a new model Ruger Mark III and purchased a brand new Ruger Mark III, for about $260.00. What was interesting is that even at $260.00 it had the new California round in chamber indicator and magazine requirements. The price hasn't changed much since prior to those requirements.

We are in the midst of firing 5000 rounds on the optimized Mark III. Initial 50 rounds show excellent results show 100% code extraction (the ability to read the entire code). We will post images mid January when the first 2500 rounds are complete. We are imaging every cartridge.

Best regards,
Todd Lizotte

Saturday, October 13, 2007

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Signs AB1471 Into Law

Planted Cartridge Theory: Having Faith In Forensic Science

Forensic investigators use crime scene reconstruction methods to analyze various patterns; foot prints, projectile trajectories to track back to the firing location and to match projectile location to cartridge location, i.e. cartridge ejection patterns. Projectile locations have a location and a angular trajectory (They can show movement of the shooter or angle of the firearm), so it is possible to match the two patterns.

In an exchange of gun fire; the criminal is firing the handgun and potentially moving at the same time. These actions are mirrored in the pattern of the cartridge casings. If the person then randomly drops or plants cartridges, those dropped cartridges would not follow the pattern that occurred during the actual action. A common criminal who has committed a murder or has drawn a firearm in a fire fight, is not going to be in the right frame of mind, nor in an opportune moment to take into consideration these types of ideas. Fight or flight response takes over.

The physical evidence is also analyzed; powder or gun shot residue (its type, age, and oxidation), oxidation of the cartridges themselves (fresh versus old), finger-prints on the cartridges, odd things (cartridge with pocket lint, dirt) and the standard ballistic markings on the projectile (rifling land marks, twist).

The planted cartridge scenario is not realistic for nearly >90% of gang or moment of opportunity based heinous acts or crimes.

Another point is that planted cartridges have a history and by planting them at a crime scene the criminal is just leaving more leads to follow. Maybe those planted cartridges will lead the place where the cartridges were taken, maybe that range has video taping system, or requires people to show drivers license and sign a form to enter the range area or maybe by finding these cartridges to plant that means there is more of an opportunity to recover good finger prints.

The fact is that planting cartridges is an interesting theory, but it reality, it doesn't happen now and modern forensic crime scene investigation methods are more than capable of overcoming this type of scenario.

Microstamping: Doesn't Work On Flintlock Pistols Either

Another argument that keeps popping up on various blogs is the idea that microstamping doesn't work on revolvers.

I will agree 100%, doesn't offer benefit for revolver based incidents if they don't drop their cartridges. this is why we had targeted semi-automatic handguns.

Another argument is microstamping will just create a shift in criminal firepower selection, by creating a deterrent to using semi-automatic firearms. The argument is you could drive criminals towards revolvers or to knives or baseball bats.

We don’t see a downside. Use of a revolver means that they are limited to six rounds per engagement or it offers their intended victim the chance to escape with their lives. Revolvers used in crime tend to not have the same impact as a semi-automatic handgun.

Reducing a criminal’s firepower is a benefit, if microstamping shifts them from semi-auto handguns to revolvers, once again we don’t see a downside.

Plainly speaking firepower is the amount of damage you can cause within a given time frame. However, effective firepower is a combination of variables including the type of firearm, the ammunition, and most importantly the gun handling skill of the shooter.

Firing a revolver accurately takes more skill than a semi-auto handgun. And when you have no skill at all in firing, odds are you are not going to do as much damage.

Another point is revolvers are “dual action”; the criminal has to pull the trigger fully for each round fired where as semi-auto are typically single action firearms.

Most drive by shootings cause death by the fact that a hail of bullets is fired randomly.

Others incidents are close quarter engagements where the need for skilled aiming was not necessary.

The issue is there is a rise of semi-automatic handguns being used. Microstamping makes sense for that segment.

Microstamping (How does it help law enforcement?)

Microstamping identifies the firearm when a firearm is not recovered at the crime scene. How does that help law enforcment? It is a good question.

Many opponents state that the only thing microstamping does is identify the original purchaser and needlessly harasses them. However, this argument is hollow. If a law abiding gun owner has a firearm stolen, it behoves me to think they would not report the theft, having to figure that the theft would be part of a possible home invasion and other personal items of far greater value would be stolen.

However if the theif borke into the gun owners home to only take the firearms, than more than likely, the theif was aware of the firearms location and the personal schedule of the lawful owner. This also brings up the question: why wouldn't you report the theft?

Further it is not out of the question that the lawful firearm owner might have been identified by a theft ring operating in the area and possibly at teh firing range where the gun owner enjoys their sport. Once again i think it is in the best interest of the lawful gun owner to report the theft, to allow the police to investigate this potential.

So, I am a law abiding gun owner and my firearm is stolen, I report the theft to my local police, they being an investigation and file the report.

Now, if my firearm is used to committ a murder and it is found at the scene, guess what I am am getting a phone call or visit by the police no matter what. that is just eh way it goes. Luckily I have my report. Hopefully the firearm is recovered fast, since it is better to clear the issue as soon as possible instead of years later.

Now, if my firearm is stolen and it is outfitted with microstamping, and it is used to committ a murder and the police find cartridge with the code, but do not recover the firearm, guess what, same situation, I am getting a phone call or a visit. However, once again the matter is taken care of the first time the firearm is used, whether it is recovered or not.

So, how does this help lawenforcement? first it identifies the firearm, it also leads tehm to the area where it was stolen and possibly dovetails into the theft investigation. maybe their is a theft ring operating in the area where the firearm is stolen and maybe the police have suspects, which leads to know associates, which leads to the possbile purchaser of the firearm.

The key is Intel and crime patterns. Microstamping is a piece of Intel that can be used, the newer the intel the better the analysis.

The FBI and ATF has developed ways of analyzing certain criminal enterprises by the patterns they form when they engage in criminal behavior. The critical element to defining these patterns and analyzing them is good INTEL or “real-time” data.

This has become even more important with the formation of homeland security. Now new tools are being adapted from military methods of INTEL analysis, such as link analysis and social network analysis. By overlaying INTEL data from firearms trafficking to known networks of gangs, gang associates and known drug trafficking networks a complete picture is developed. Of course these maps or links are only as good as the INTEL, i.e. fresh information.

The FBI states that through their work, criminal enterprises or gangs are creatures of habit, and they often establish specific patterns in their activities. For firearm trafficking, this means they might prefer a certain type of straw purchaser, a specific source location or licensee, or a favorite method of distribution. Such patterns can be found through analysis of data; the problem is the current data is acquired when the firearm is recovered, instead of when the firearm is first used. The key once again is faster INTEL.

Law enforcement is now dealing with a migration pattern of gangs and other criminal enterprises and this network is now stretching farther across the country.

If microstamping data can be gathered at the instant the firearm is used in a crime, the greater chance for better linking and mapping through analysis.

Firearm trafficking becomes vulnerable to these new techniques such as link analysis and social network analysis, when an analysis of the data can form into patterns within a narrower window of time.

So, when trying to find unique ways of getting law enforcement the information they need to combat trafficking, while maintaining the rights of law abiding gun owners, it seems possible, microstamping could strike that balance.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Microstamping (What is it?)

Microstamping simply is the utilization of surfaces within a firearm that currently have unintentional microstructures (currently used for forensic firearm identification) formed during the manufacture of the firearm, by adding intentional (alphanumeric or geometric codes - holograms / barcodes) on those surfaces.

The idea is to not change the dynamics of the firearm and use the same forces that currently transfer the unintentional tooling marks.

Microstamping is simply an evolutionary step in firearm identification technology, augmenting, not replacing current firearm and toolmark analysis. Microstamping is a method to identify the firearm, when the firearm is not recovered.