Get an inside look at ATF Atlanta’s forensic science laboratory

Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 6:27 PM EDT
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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) - A variety of work is happening inside the Atlanta Field Division Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

ATF granted CBS46 access inside to see some of the technology and other methods used to investigate crimes.

One investigative tool used is the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). It allows for shell casings to be scanned into a database to be compared to others from across the country. Some agencies in metro Atlanta have their own NIBIN system, otherwise, they can ask the ATF to utilize theirs. The system takes 2D, 3D, and HD images of three different regions of a shell casing.

“We are getting leads every day,” said Special Agent Brian Moore, the NIBIN Coordinator for ATF Atlanta.

“The technology’s gotten so much better so now we’re starting to see more and more leads out of it,” he said, adding they’re seeing more cold cases solved using NIBIN.

The technology is what led investigators to make an arrest in the murder of Oconee County store clerk Elijah Wood. It was a crime that went unsolved for nearly a year until the ATF matched a shell casing from that crime scene to a shell casing from a shooting in Philadelphia.

“It’s a very important piece for us but it’s one piece of a huge toolbox so it points us in the right direction. I equate it to a starter pistol for investigations. Once we have that NIBIN then we’re off and running,” said Moore.

He hopes to see eventually see a state law passed about ballistic evidence recovered from crime scenes.

“Everybody does fingerprints, everybody does DNA, those are national practices, but ballistics are not national practice. They should be put into this database,” he said.

The ATF Atlanta offices also house one of the Bureau’s two forensic science laboratories. The other is in Maryland.

Kevin Rippman is a Firearm and Toolmark Examiner who conducts scientific analysis. He primarily examines bullets and cartridge cases to see if they appear to have been fired from the same gun.

“What I’m looking for are microscopic imperfections on bullets or microscopic imperfections on cartridge cases,” Rippman explained.

If investigators happen to have a gun recovered from a scene, Rippman fires the gun into a water tank in order to extract the bullet and shell casing for analysis.

He said, “Every day it’s something new. You never know what you’re going to get on a case and every day is trying to solve that mystery of what it is I’m looking at or what it is I’m trying to figure out.”