At a meeting with the Arima Business Association at the Arima Town Hall on Friday, Commissioner of Police (CoP) Gary Griffith was big on promises to improve the response of the Police Service to crime. Flush with a recent infusion of overdue government funding, he promised an online system to report crime, cold case and missing persons units and state of the art equipment to improve the responsiveness of his officers.
Among his bag of promissory goodies, the CoP promised a database that would improve confidentiality for successful applicants for a firearm licence, a response to concerns raised by Arima businessman Roger Belix that four people he knew were killed soon after successfully applying for and buying guns for their protection.
It’s an important first move in stepping up control and oversight of both legal and illegal firearms in TT. We urge the commissioner to go further and to take advantage of modern forensic technology to indelibly identify guns that are issued as part of the firearms licensing process, and to introduce ballistics testing as part of a modern programme to tie weapons to their ammunition.
It’s easy to remove the serial numbers and other identifying information from the gun itself, but the rifling of a gun’s barrel, which spins a bullet as it travels after firing, leaves a unique mechanical fingerprint on both the casing as well as the bullet itself. This forensic examination has been a part of modern policing since the 1930s.
The TTPS was lucky when it found its own ammunition in the wild recently, recovering 23 rounds of ammunition clearly labelled as TTPS property, urging National Security Minister Stuart Young to call for an urgent audit of arms and ammunition. Being able to link spent ammunition back to the guns that fired them will add a critical dimension to tracking gun use and cracking down on the illegal trade in these weapons.
As part of the issuance of a licence for a personal firearm, the TTPS should insist on having, along with its database information, a properly secured shell and bullet fired from each weapon licensed for citizen use. Its own weapons should be similarly fingerprinted along with those of the Defence Force. In 1997, the FBI made 8,800 ballistic fingerprint matches, creating actionable links between 17,600 crimes. The next step in locking down this avenue for gun acquisition might sound like science fiction, but it’s already a reality.
An insistence on smart guns for personal use, weapons that are locked unless released by a built-in fingerprint sensor, would reduce the possibility of people being killed by their own weapons and eliminate accidents caused by a child’s curiosity.