ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A chemical detection technique developed at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Sandia National Laboratories and licensed to a Colorado Springs company has helped police departments solve at least five real crimes, including four murders, in recent months.
As part of each investigation, local police investigators used a new product called the Instant Shooter ID Kitฎ provided by Law Enforcement Technologies (LET), Inc., of Colorado Springs.
The kit employs a Sandia-developed and -tested concept for packaging a laboratory chemical detection technique useful for identifying minute traces of gunpowder residue left at a crime scene — and on the shooter’s hands, arms, and clothing — whenever someone fires a gun. (See Sandia’s February 13, 2002 news release for more information: http://www.sandia.gov/media/NewsRel/NR2002/gunres.htm).
LET licensed the technique from Sandia in February this year and turned it into a product that is compact, affordable, and usable at the crime scene, says LET founder and CEO Greg MacAleese, a former Albuquerque Police Department violent crimes investigator.
Soon after, LET began shipping samples of the kits to police departments for field trials. As word spread, demand grew, says MacAleese.
Each kit costs $16.95 and is about the size and shape of a VHS cassette.
Today there are more than 1,600 of the kits in the hands of police departments across the country, he says, with orders coming in every day.
The kits have proven most useful in helping investigators quickly narrow the list of suspects, right at the crime scene, or piece together details of a crime so detectives can focus on the most plausible explanations, says MacAleese.
Police traditionally sent possible gunpowder residue samples to forensics labs for analysis using scanning electron microscopes (SEMs). But each SEM analysis typically costs hundreds of dollars and takes a month or more, too long for some police work.
“I think now the forensics labs have begun to view the kits as a way to reduce their workloads and focus on the higher-profile crimes,” he says.
Each Instant Shooter ID Kit includes a round fiberglass swab that can be rubbed on the hands, arms, or clothing of someone suspected of firing a gun, or on the surfaces of a crime scene.
When the swab is soaked in a proprietary liquid chemical, spots where trace amounts of gunpowder residues are present turn blue against the white swab. A detection takes 3 to 5 minutes.
Crimes solved with assistance from the Instant Shooter ID Kit:
* In Nassau County, N.Y., in September, homicide detectives used the kit to determine that the person who killed two people in the front seat of a car had fired the gun from the back seat, not from the street as one witness had reported. When faced with the new evidence, the witness confessed to committing the murders himself.
* In Glendale, Ariz., officers interceded in a potential confrontation between suspected gang members at a park and found an automatic weapon nearby, which none of the suspects claimed. Police took them all into custody and swabbed them. The Instant Shooter ID Kit detected gunpowder on one suspect who had been released from prison the previous day. He confessed to handling the weapon, a violation of his parole.
* Each of six victims in three separate apparent double homicides (Falls Church, Va., Flagstaff, Ariz., and Midland-Odessa, Texas) were swabbed. The Instant Shooter ID Kit helped detectives conclude that each crime was a murder-suicide — in each case one of the victims had fired the gun that killed the other, then turned the gun on himself.
“Pretty good for a product that’s been out only a couple of months,” says MacAleese. “As police departments are confronted by an increasing number of violent crimes, there is a need for a fast and low-cost alternative to lab work. We are seeing a major increase in demand, and the feedback is all positive.”
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