612 – Firearms Laboratory Mobile Field Reporting (MFR) Access

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Purpose

This policy facilitates an orderly transition of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Firearms Identification Laboratory to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS).

Policy

The ability of the Firearms Laboratory to continue providing services in the same fashion as it did prior to the re-organization to the HCIFS will benefit the HCSO.

Procedure

Scope of Services

The Firearms Laboratory provides services in the following areas:

  1. Evaluation of firearms function and operability,
  2. Entry of fired cartridge case specimens into the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS),
  3. Evaluation of correlation results generated as a result of entries into IBIS,
  4. Evaluation and comparison of fired ammunition components,
  5. Serial number restoration,
  6. Creation of e-traces for firearms that have been processed in the laboratory, and
  7. Response to call-outs related to officer-involved shootings.

Evidence Submission Process

Evidence items will be submitted to the Firearms Laboratory utilizing the evidence submission form. [CALEA Standards 83.2.1 and 83.3.2]

All applicable areas on the submission form must be completed.

The “Evidence Submitted” section of the form should consist of an itemized listing of all of items contained in the submission. Descriptions of all firearms submitted to the laboratory should list caliber, make, model, serial number, and the presence of a magazine, if appropriate.

The evidence submission form should indicate the type of examination requested along with any special processing that might be required.

All evidence must be barcoded.

Evidence will be submitted directly to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences between the hours of 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.

Evidence Packaging

The preferred packaging for evidence is a clear plastic bag. [CALEA Standards 84.1.1 d and e]

All firearms must be cleared with a zip-tie in the action in a manner that renders the firearm inoperable.

All exterior packages must be heat-sealed or sealed with evidence tape. All seals must have the packaging deputy’s initials written across the seal and the package.

Exterior packages must exhibit barcodes representing the contents of the package.

Ammunition associated with a firearm must be packaged separately.

Magazines and ammunition associated with long guns should be packaged separately.

Evidence that is contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids should be properly labeled with a biohazard label.

Processing of Evidence

Firearms submitted for IBIS testing will, as a general rule, be examined and documented for functionality and test-fired. Appropriate test-fired specimens will be imaged, and a correlation (search) will be generated. Some firearms may not be appropriate for entry into IBIS. In those cases, those firearms will be function-tested or may be only inventoried and transferred to the property room.

Suicide cases will be treated as IBIS cases unless there is a specific request to conduct additional testing.

The laboratory will determine the appropriate testing method to be employed to accomplish the requested analysis.

Once the examinations have been completed, the evidence will be transferred to the HCSO property room. The property room generally picks up evidence at the Firearms Laboratory on a weekly basis.

As a general rule, all firearms-related evidence will be submitted to the Firearms Laboratory. In some instances, there may circumstances where there is a question if it is appropriate or necessary to submit an item to the laboratory (e.g., a single unfired cartridge, a magazine where no firearm is recovered, a large quantity of ammunition, etc.). In those instances, the laboratory should be contacted (preferably by e-mail), and a determination will be made by the laboratory on how to handle the situation. If the evidence does not need to be submitted for examination, the laboratory will document that fact in an e-mail to the requesting party.

Whenever two or more cases are connected through IBIS, a separate supplement will be entered in all cases to reflect the association of the two cases. On a monthly basis, the Firearms Laboratory will provide information related to all new hits made during the month to the appropriate party in the Homicide section for investigative action.

Reporting of Examination Results

The results of examinations will be provided in a PDF attachment which will be uploaded to an e-file associated with a supplement to the case. [CALEA Standard 83.3.2]

Firearms Laboratory members will continue to operate under the security umbrella of the HCSO in order to retain access to the Automated Reporting System application.

Firearms Laboratory staff members, except the laboratory manager, will not have access to files that are coded confidential other than to enter supplements into such files.

The laboratory manager will have access to cases that are confidential, but access will be for the purpose of approving and printing out the supplements entered by members of the Firearms Laboratory.

Firearms Laboratory members will continue to have the same level of access to the File on Q application as they current have. The access will include scanning existing barcodes, editing existing barcodes, and creating new barcodes within the File on Q application.

From time to time, personnel within the Firearms Laboratory may require the assistance of the Information Technology (IT) group within the HCSO in order to maintain current operations. This may include the resetting of passwords and creation of new logon and password accounts for new personnel added to the Firearms Laboratory.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

March 5, 2013

February 21, 2014

October 31, 2018

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