603 – Disposition of Firearms and Firearms-Related Evidence

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Purpose

This policy establishes procedures for the submission of evidence to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS) Firearms Identification Laboratory and establishes uniform and comprehensive procedures for the collection, processing, and entry of firearms-related evidence into the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) and the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN). [CALEA Standard 83.3.2]

The HCIFS Firearms Laboratory, located at 1861 Old Spanish Trail, is responsible for receiving firearms and firearms-related evidence not only from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), but also from any law enforcement agency in the southeast Texas region. Linked electronically through the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), firearms identification data can be captured and stored for automatic comparisons from several network locations.

Policy

This policy will define how firearms and cartridge components will be handled once such items are recovered or seized by any deputy and will ensure the comprehensive entry of appropriate fired cartridge specimens into IBIS / NIBIN system. Additionally, this policy defines what steps must be followed in order to have a microscopic comparison and evaluation performed by the Firearms Laboratory. Any deputy who comes into custody of a firearm, ammunition, or firearms-related evidence shall adhere to the following procedures for processing such items: [CALEA Standard 83.3.2]

  1. The Firearms Laboratory will no longer initiate microscopic comparisons and evaluations of fired cartridge components until a written request for such comparison is made by an investigator.
  2. A request for microscopic comparison and evaluation shall be requested via an e-mail.
  3. Until a written request for microscopic comparisons has been made by an investigator, any firearms-related evidence submitted to the Firearms Laboratory will be processed only for entry into the IBIS / NIBIN system.

Only certain calibers, types of firearms, and fired cartridge cases will be imaged into the IBIS / NIBIN system. These IBIS-eligible firearms and fired cartridge cases are listed in the last sections of this policy.

Only IBIS-eligible firearms and fired cartridge cases should be submitted to the Firearms Laboratory unless the firearm or fired cartridge component is being submitted for microscopic comparison and evaluation.

As indicated above, microscopic comparison and evaluation must be requested in writing by an investigator.

All firearms and cartridge components, regardless of their seizure, will be processed under the guidelines of this policy. However, this does not advocate the otherwise unnecessary seizure of firearms. All other applicable policies regarding the seizure of firearms and ammunition will also be adhered to (e.g., writing offense reports, inventories, owner notifications, seizure requests, master tags, etc.).

Under no circumstances will any firearm or cartridge component taken into custody by any deputy be retained for any reason without being processed in accordance with procedure and other applicable policies.

Except by lawful order of a court, no firearm or cartridge component will be released to any person, including any law enforcement officer or agency, prior to submission to the Firearms Laboratory in accordance with this policy.

Firearms and cartridge components submitted to the HCSO by other agencies for evidentiary processing will also be subject to the requirements of this policy and may only be released after being processed through the Firearms Identification Laboratory.

Cartridge components (bullets and cases) that have been fired from a firearm and recovered shall be submitted to the Firearms Laboratory in accordance with this policy.

The only exception to this policy is when an IBIS-eligible firearm or fired cartridge case has been in the custody of the Houston Police Department’s Property Room and has already been imaged by the Houston Forensic Science Center Firearms Unit. The item must have an existing HCSO case number and an HPD case number. Items that meet this exception will be placed in the HCSO property room, and a supplement will be generated.

Procedure

All recovered firearms, ammunition, and fired cartridge components (bullets and cases) will be packaged in an appropriate, properly-sealed container with the initials of the reporting or submitting deputy placed across the seal before being transported to the Firearms Identification laboratory for processing. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2 a & b]

ALL firearms shall have the actions strapped open and, when appropriate, be sealed in clear plastic tubing and separated from live ammunition. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2 b]

In addition to a master tag, which is required to be attached to all property, a properly-completed HCIFS evidence submission form must accompany all firearms and related items under the same case number. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2 c & e]

In addition to providing chain of custody documentation, information requested on the evidence submission form is needed for case tracking and reporting requirements associated with IBIS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) Tracing Center. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2 d]

Firearms evidence shall be submitted directly to the Firearms Identification Laboratory via the Evidence Management Section unless the evidence also requires other forensic processing. In this event, the evidence shall be submitted directly to the appropriate laboratory for processing.

IBIS-eligible fired cartridge cases will be submitted to the HCIFS Firearms Laboratory without delay in an attempt to have the cartridge case imaged in IBIS / NIBIN within forty-eight (48) hours.

IBIS-eligible fired cartridge cases will no longer be processed for latent prints unless it is believed the cartridge cases were handled by the suspect after they were fired.

IBIS-eligible fired cartridge cases will no longer be processed for DNA unless it is believed the cartridge cases were handled by the suspect or possible DNA was deposited on the cartridge cases after they were fired.

Firearms evidence received by the Crime Scene Unit Latent Print Section will be transported to the Firearms Identification Laboratory once the processing for latent prints has been completed.

Firearms personnel will also be responsible for releasing HCSO evidence from the Firearms Laboratory to the HCSO Property Room for storage.

Evidence being processed for other agencies will be submitted directly from the Firearms Laboratory in accordance with the provisions of this policy.

NOTE: An evidence submission form will also be used for all evidence submissions to the Crime Scene Unit Latent Print Section. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2 e]

Except as provided herein, all firearms will be rendered safe (i.e., unloaded) before being submitted to either the Firearms Identification Laboratory or the Latent Print Section. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2 b]

This shall be clearly demonstrated by strapping the action of the forearm open.

If a firearm is not able to be unloaded for any reason, Firearms Laboratory personnel shall be contacted for instructions prior to submission.

If Firearms Laboratory personnel authorize a loaded firearm to be submitted, it will be transported directly to the Firearms Identification Laboratory.

Under no circumstance will the submitting deputy deliver a loaded firearm without prior approval and an obvious and distinct warning attached to the firearm and / or packaging clearly indicating the firearm is loaded.

NOTE: Failure to comply with this policy may result in disciplinary sanctions as deemed appropriate by the employee’s bureau commander including, but not limited to, suspension or termination.

IBIS-Eligible Firearms

Semi-automatic pistols of the following caliber types will be submitted to the firearms laboratory for imaging:

22 Caliber9mm Luger (9×19mm)7.62×25 Tokarev
25 Auto40 S&W30 Luger
32 Auto10mm Auto41 AE
38 Super45 Auto45 GAP
380 Auto50 AE9mm Makarov (9×18mm)
357 Sig5.72×28mm7.62×39mm
223 Rem.5.56mm 

Semi-automatic rifles of the following caliber types will be submitted to the firearms laboratory for imaging:

22 Caliber300 Blackout5.56mm
223 Rem.30 Carbine5.45×39mm
7.62×39mm  

Shotguns of the following gauges if the shotgun has been shortened:

  • 12 Gauge
  • 16 Gauge
  • 20 Gauge
  • .410 Bore (Gauge)

Any firearm that is fully automatic.

IBIS-Eligible Cartridge Cases

The following fired cartridge cases will be imaged into IBIS:

22 Caliber9mm Luger (9×19mm)7.62×25 Tokarev
25 Auto40 S&W30 Luger
32 Auto10mm Auto41 AE
38 Super45 Auto45 GAP
380 Auto50 AE9mm Makarov (9×18mm)
357 Sig5.72×28mm7.62×39mm
223 Rem.5.56mm300 Blackout
30 Carbine5.45×39mm 

Items Not Imaged

  • Revolvers and derringers of any caliber types will not be imaged into IBIS.
  • Fired cartridge cases from revolvers will not be imaged.
  • Current IBIS hardware is not capable of imaging fired bullets.
  • Law enforcement duty firearms unless the firearm was stolen and later recovered.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 21, 2009

November 4, 2015

October 9, 2017

Previous 602 – Entry of Firearms Into Mobile Field Reporting (MFR)
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