SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Behind the scenes of New Jersey State Police’s improved forensics lab

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

When police recover crime guns, bullets or shell casings they take them to one of seven labs for forensics processing — a drawn out system that state police commanders recently cut from 10 months to 48 hours in their one-stop shop. They invited the media to a behind-the-scenes tour, starting with intake detectives.

“They glove up. They mask up. Basically, if a firearm comes in, what we do is we try to preserve that evidence,” said Detective Gwen Tietjen from the New Jersey State Police.

DNA evidence, fingerprints, saliva, sweat, blood, if there’s any to be found it’ll be discovered here where weapons undergo a rigorous multi-step examination in the crime scene room. It’s now under the same roof with the rest of the lab.

“It runs about a 25 minute cycle,” said Captain Thomas Keyes.

Fingerprints are photographed right away for potential matching in a national database.

“We would put it down this chute right here,” Tietjen explained.

Another step — firing a gun into a closed ballistics water tank to retrieve the bullet.

“The water will keep the bullet pristine,” Tietjen said.

Each gun leaves a specific impression on its fired ammunition, information key to comparing the head stamp of the casing with others in the computerized National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. It’s looking for a twin in this demonstration.

“Now this is two different cartridge cases, but at this point we’re looking at the same gun,” explained Tietjen.

Confirmation will come when a firearms examiner analyzes the potential match under a microscope. It’s a match that could lead to solving other crimes inside and outside of New Jersey.

While it seems impressive to go from 10 months all the way to 48 hours or less to process firearms, state police say what is most impressive about that is being able to prevent other crimes.

Police say the magical time difference came when they focused more on gathering evidence for prevention to share with in-the-field detectives instead of just prosecution for a court case.

“If we can save a life, if we can stop a shooting, that’s much more important than actually investigating a shooting or a homicide,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ray Guidetti, deputy superintendent of investigations. Does he think he’s saved lives because of the ability to process weapons faster? “Yes,” he said.”

The ATF is a major partner across the country.

“What we are ultimately trying to do is use this technology to identify that very small population of criminals that are actually shooting, not just simply possessing the guns,” said ATF Firearms Operations Division Chief James Ferguson.

“New Jersey State Police and the rest of our law enforcement partners are doing everything in our power to bring justice to the victims, to bring offenders off the streets and to keep the people of New Jersey safe,” Major Geoffrey Noble, commanding officer for the office of forensic sciences, said.