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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

R.I. State Crime Laboratory to purchase
new device for weapons test firings
Will be boost forensic analysis of firearms evidence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- February 23, 2001 -- The Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory at the University of Rhode Island announced today that it has purchased a new portable apparatus for capturing bullet projectiles and cartridge casings for forensic examinations.

The news came as part of a press conference held in the office of the Commissioner of Public Safety during which the Providence Police Department said that it is the first in the country to buy the "Forensic Buddy" made by Savage Range Systems in Westfield, Mass.

Robert Hathaway, a criminalist in the state crime laboratory located on URI’s Kingston Campus, said the new device costs about $1,900. Prior to the purchase of this device the only place in the state for test firing weapons and recovering bullet projectiles intact, was the state crime laboratory’s water tank. In fact, Hathaway made use of the tank in May 1997 during an examination of the rifle linked to James Earl Ray in the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. That event gained Hathaway and the state crime laboratory international attention.

The new devices to be purchased by the Providence Police Department and the state crime laboratory will not replace the water tank, but will give police and the lab another tool to capture a handgun bullet intact.

A company description lists the features of the "Forensic Buddy."

o It relies on the laws of nature to decelerate a bullet. The bullet’s energy is absorbed through the use of a special ballistic media designed to transfer kinetic energy, yet the bullet remains intact. The media is contained in a capsule with a removable lid.

o The bullet loses velocity by controlled deceleration and comes to rest within the capsule.
o The capsule is then opened and the media is dumped into a collection tray for bullet removal.

Hathaway said the state crime laboratory will loan its "Forensic Buddy" to police departments around the state so they can conduct their own test firings.

"The water tank is a little easier to use, but it certainly is not portable," Hathaway said.

The arrival of this device couldn’t come at a better time, Hathaway said, because the number of firearms investigations at the state crime laboratory is skyrocketing.

From July 1998 through July 1999, 102 firearms cases were examined by the state crime laboratory, while from July 1999 through July 2000, 134 firearms cases were reviewed.

However, from July 2000 to July 2001, Hathaway is projecting that the laboratory will process between 225 and 250 gun cases.

"We are going to start a training program in March for armory personnel and Bureau of Criminal Investigation personnel in each department," Hathaway said. "We want to make our device available to police departments that cannot afford their own.

"Because of the use of computer systems in capturing and storing digital images of cartridge casings, we are getting more and more cases requesting test fires be performed and entered into the computer system," Hathaway said.

In 1998, the state crime laboratory was awarded a $36,000 federal grant through the "Drugfire" program, which allowed it to purchase a computer system, a miniature television camera mounted on a microscope and video monitor that allows for storage and easy comparison of cartridge case images. The Rhode Island Justice Commission contributed an additional $14,250, and the state crime laboratory earmarked $5,000 from its budget.

Hathaway said when a department or the state crime laboratory completes test firings of a weapon, the images of the cartridge casings must now be entered into the National Integrated Ballistics Systems Network (NIBIN), which is a cooperative initiative of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and local crime laboratories.

"We have been able to link unsolved shooting crimes in the state of Rhode Island and elsewhere through this technology," Hathaway said.

"If more departments and the lab have the ability to conduct test firings with more efficiency, then evidence could be entered in that national system more quickly", Hathaway said.

"We made the first cross-New England hit with Connecticut with a gun recovered in Rhode Island," Hathaway said.

Hathaway said the device will be even more critical if legislation before the General Assembly passes that would require all handguns, sold or resold in the State of Rhode Island, be test fired before the sale so that the test fires can be entered into the NIBIN system.

"In Rhode Island, there are more than 4,000 guns sold a year," Hathaway said. "We want to continue to build our date base. The state of Rhode Island is rallying around this because of the computer technology. We’re trying to do this as a unified law enforcement community, and to bring the resources of the University to bear as well.

"This state can become a regional center for this type of technology," he added.

Providence Police Sgt. Steve Melaragno said the new bullet trap would allow the department to do its own test firings, and then send the evidence to the state crime laboratory for entry into the NIBIN system.

"This equipment is great and it’s affordable. We are the first in the country to make use of this, and the state crime laboratory will have the second," Melaragno said.

For Information: Robert Hathaway 401-874-2893, Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

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