When the ATF and IT Cross Paths

atfLike many federal agencies involved in law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) relies on information technology tools for a variety of purposes, ranging from crime investigation to managing administrative data to information sharing on intelligence with other federal and local agencies. Some of these IT tools are in full swing while others are in planning for implementation. The key takeaway is that IT is definitely becoming an integral tool for the agency. Here are some of the ways it’s being applied.


If you’ve seen the movie “Minority Report,” then you’ll remember the starting story line involved law enforcement using a predictive technology system to anticipate criminals before they commit their crimes. While today’s ATF is nowhere near that level of predictive technology, in identifying the probable locations where firearms will be used in a crime. Using a statistical computer approach named geolocation, the concept uses past historical data to predict trends and probabilities of future gun use. However, the advantage is that the tool conceivably identifies where the crime will occur so law enforcement can anticipate and be ready ahead of time.

Many cities and states already rely on some form of geolocation software to anticipate where to place officers on street assignments. However, they don’t necessarily share their information between each other. ATF wants to take the idea to a national level, starting with 200 high priority locations in the country first, then expanding if successful. There are only so many places the ATF can take the info however, as the online financial crimes certification is essential for officers to train others.

Then NIBIN Program

One of the technology tools ATF already has in place and has been using in one form or another since the 1990s is the . NIBIN, which stands for National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, is used identifying ballistic information to help solve crimes using firearms. The program has been in used for decades and has an extensive success record at contributing to criminal prosecutions. With the advances made to the NIBIN program and related databases, the ATF now regularly shares ballistic information nationally to state and local agencies trying to solve crimes. The information distribution has increased case-solving power considerably.

Shared Communication

Cohesive communication between federal law enforcement agencies has now become a priority, especially after the lessons learned on September 11, 2001 and the attack on the New York Twin Towers. with a major technology and defense vendor to build such as system, so the ATF’s investigation and databases can be shared as well as collecting valuable data from other agencies into the ATF for analysis.

The new project combines both software and hardware to meet the communication sharing goal, while also taking advantage of enhanced security, cloud computing, and mobility networks for immediate field access to the same information as that available at the office. Further, with data consolidation, ATF management expects to enhance its data mining capability for better analysis results as well as finding previously undetected case connections. The initial project will start at the ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. and eventually spread to field offices of the agency.

In Summary

There is no question that computer technology and advances in IT tools, particularly for analysis and predictive services, will continue to be a priority for the ATF as it is other federal law enforcement agencies. The power of technology has become very apparent for developing trends, statistics, forensic analysis and all sorts of case-producing successes. Granted, the value of the tools are realizing some maturing as limitations are now being discussed at the Supreme Court level as well as in public discourse. However, ATF’s use and marriage with IT won’t be going away anytime soon.

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