Law and Public Safety

Law and Public Safety

Firearms and Toolmarks Unit

Role of a Firearm and Toolmark Examiner

The role of a Firearm and Toolmark Examiner is to formulate opinions relative to submitted firearm and tool evidence which otherwise stands mute. Fully qualified Examiners, based on their training, research, and acquired knowledge, stand prepared to give voice to this otherwise mute evidence.

The St Louis County Police Crime Laboratory currently has four such full-time Firearm and Toolmark Examiners. In addition to simple firearm safety and function checks, it is the responsibility of these Examiners to evaluate and compare submitted evidence related to tools of any kind with the impressions they are suspected to have made. (Keep in mind that firearms are actually a specialized tool making impressions on other components, i.e. bullets and cartridge cases.)

This examination process includes the following phases:

Evaluation

The initial examination phase evaluates evidence to determine if the observed class characteristics are the same between two specimens (two unknown specimens, or an unknown and a known specimen). If the specimens are suitable for examination and the class characteristics are the same, then it is possible that the toolmarks were produced utilizing the same tool (such as a firearm or a bolt cutter). If they are different, then the two specimens can be eliminated as being produced by the same tool.

Comparison

If the class characteristics are consistent between two specimens, then a comparative examination is performed utilizing a comparison microscope. The methodology utilized in the examination process is pattern matching. This comparison is conducted to determine: 1) if any marks present are subclass characteristics and/or individual characteristics, and 2) the level of correspondence of any individual characteristics.

Conclusion

If sufficient agreement of individual characteristics is observed between two specimens, an identification conclusion is rendered. If all of the discernible class characteristics are the same, but sufficient agreement of the individual characteristics is not observed, then an inconclusive (no-conclusion) determination is rendered. In exceptional situations, an elimination conclusion may be rendered on observed differences in individual characteristics.

Verification

A verification process is employed to ensure proper conclusions are rendered. As outlined in our laboratory’s quality assurance policy, a mechanism is in place to determine which cases require verification.

Other Duties

Additionally, the Examiners have access to a national database for searching and evaluating photographed cartridge cases to find related cases. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network/Integrated Ballistics Identification System (NIBIN/IBIS) is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Our Examiners have discovered over 400 case relationships using NIBIN/IBIS.

Another duty of our Examiners is to restore obliterated serial numbers on firearms or other items. After preparing the surface, the Examiner applies different chemical solutions to restore the numbers.

After a case is worked, an Examiner will write a detailed report concerning scientific findings related to Firearm and Toolmark analysis. Then, upon request, the Examiner will testify in criminal proceedings based upon these findings as an expert witness in the area of Forensic Firearm and Toolmark examinations.

For more information, please contact:

St. Louis County Police Crime LaboratoryASCLD Logo
Lieutenant Dana Fulton, Commander
Telephone: (314) 615-5365
E-mail: [dfulton@stlouisco.com]

Ms. Lisa Campbell, Deputy Director
Telephone: (314) 615-5365
E-mail: [lcampbell@stlouisco.com]

7900 Forsyth Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63105
Fax: 314-615-8956

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Friday, 8:00AM to 4:30PM*
The Laboratory is closed on all St. Louis County Government holidays
*Please call for an appointment if submitting evidence


St. Louis County Police DepartmentCALEA Logo
7900 Forsyth Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63105

Emergency Calls: Call 911
Non-Emergency Reporting / General Information: (314) 889-2341
TDD: (314) 889-2345