Rep. Boylan, Sen. Tikoian introduce bill to help law enforcement solve gun crimes


STATE HOUSE – Rep. Jennifer Boylan and Sen. David P. Tikoian have introduced legislation to aid law enforcement in solving gun-related crimes by taking advantage of a national ballistics analysis database.

“It would be unthinkable for law enforcement to arrest a person suspected of committing a violent crime and not take their fingerprints,” said Representative Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence). “The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is the ballistic evidence equivalent, and it must be used universally to get the maximum benefit for our police officers to connect and solve crimes.”

The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is a system that allows federal, state and local law enforcement to match fired cartridge casings to the guns from which they were fired, making it easier for law enforcement to connect multiple crime scenes and catch shooters. The system takes ballistic evidence from firearms and cross-references that evidence with other evidence residing in the database, looking for likely matches. Use of NIBIN indicates that the recovered casings were likely fired from the same firearm. This allows investigators to develop a more complete picture of what happened and who was involved, as well as linking crime scenes connected by a common gun.

“As a former Rhode Island State Trooper and Municipal Police Chief, I know firsthand how relentlessly the dedicated law enforcement officers of our state work each and every day, removing violent offenders and crime guns from our streets,” said Senator Tikoian (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, Lincoln, North Providence). “This bill supports law enforcement, by providing investigators access to additional and advanced technology, aiding in the apprehension dangerous criminal offenders.”

This legislation (2024-H 7216, 2024-S 2446) would require police departments to provide test-fired casings to the State Crime Lab or a qualified law enforcement agency for ballistics examination and into NIBIN whenever they suspect that a gun has been used in a crime. If the investigating department lacks NIBIN capabilities, they can submit the gun or two test-fired cases to the state crime laboratory, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or any other qualified law enforcement agency, such as the Attorney General’s office.

“Gun violence is a problem throughout the United States and Rhode Island is no different,” said Sidney Wordell, executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association. “There are too many illegal guns on the street and we strongly support H. 7216 and other efforts that assist police to identify and track guns that have been used in crimes.”

Representative Boylan first became aware of the underused potential of NIBIN when she served on the Working Group for Gun Safety, convened by then-Governor Raimondo in 2018. The group, composed of 51 members representing federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, attorneys, educators, veterans, academics, students and experts in the fields of public and behavioral health, noted that while some departments used NIBIN consistently, statewide use of the database was inconsistent and not always timely enough to be useful to criminal investigation. Prior to August 2022, the only NIBIN machine in Rhode Island was located at the state crime lab. The Attorney General’s office now has a machine, giving police departments an additional option to run NIBIN analysis.

The resolution of a recent tragic criminal case reinforced for Representative Boylan the importance of NIBIN as a law enforcement tool.

“Miya Brophy-Baerman was only 24 years old, a speech-language pathologist with her whole life ahead of her. She was shot and killed while simply standing on a street in Olneyville after a party on Aug. 21, 2021,” said Representative Boylan. “For more than a year, no one was arrested for this murder. NIBIN helped put Miya Brophy-Baermann’s killer behind bars for two life sentences.”

The bill would also require law enforcement to submit information about crime guns to the ATF for tracing, including make, model and serial number. This allows the ATF to track the movement of crime guns throughout the country to identify illegal firearm trafficking.

Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and New York have already passed similar NIBIN laws and the West Virginia Senate recently passed a similar bill with bipartisan support.