A day in the life of... a Ballistics Expert
A typical day in the laboratory starts very early – the city traffic can build up quickly so it’s usually best to get in before that happens.
After a coffee and a catch-up of weekend events, the first task is to trawl through the email inbox for anything that needs a priority response – it could be that a Police Officer is requesting an identification of a firearm from a photograph from a mobile phone, or an investigating officer requires an urgent witness statement for the Crown Prosecution Service for an upcoming trial.
I am due in Crown Court tomorrow, so I need to ensure that I have reviewed all the relevant examination notes, witness statements and feel ready to explain them to the Court. Last time I gave evidence I was in the witness box for eight hours, which is a fairly long time to be questioned, standing and concentrating! Hopefully my legs will get a reprieve tomorrow!
Being responsible for the reporting of results, today I will also be reviewing junior technician’s examinations and ensuring that all activities within the laboratory are carried out in compliance with our standard operating procedures. Every weapon submitted to the laboratory needs to be examined and assessed for safety.
Following this, we will test-fire the weapon in our firing range to obtain pristine samples which we use to compare to all outstanding crimes to determine whether this weapon has been used in crime previously.
The technician will load the test-fired samples onto the Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), which carries out an automated comparison against previous crimes nationally. The automated search normally takes only a few minutes, which allows us to provide fast-time intelligence to investigating agencies.
Further to the automated search, I will also use a comparison microscope to manually verify the result of the check against outstanding crimes. This is a large area of our work, and upholding our competence in microscopy involves spending long periods of time examining microscopic firing marks on bullets, cartridge cases and associated items.
You need patience, determination and a logical mind to work through any issues that arise.
Our staff need to remain flexible and be able to respond quickly to developing events. We may receive a call today requesting support on a planned firearms search on a suspected firearms factory, or we may receive an urgent submission from a Police force where someone has been injured and we need to prioritise the examination of the exhibits and provide an update on our findings within 48 hours.
The daily priorities could change at any moment!