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Enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in the investigation of criminally used firearms and ammunition

This project will explore existing practice in the detection and investigation of firearm crime in the UK.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr. Rachel Bolton-King
Police region
West Midlands
Collaboration and partnership

National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS).

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

In collaboration with National Intelligence Service (NABIS) and the existing Memorandum of Understanding between NABIS and UK police forces, this project aims to understand, evaluate and enhance the existing practice in the detection and investigation of UK firearm crime.

Understanding the current state-of-play is vital for all criminal justice stakeholders, particularly law enforcement, to develop national approaches that maximise intelligence gathering and the prosecution of criminally used firearms and ammunition.

This project intends to answer a range of research questions, which may continue to evolve and expand based on ongoing findings.

  1. How can we enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of UK firearm-evidence recovery and submission processes, particularly in ‘lower’ gun crime counties? (Project one.)  

  2. How can we enhance the training and awareness of all forms of firearm-related evidence to maximise its value to criminal investigations? (Project two.)  

  3. How does the UK experience differ to those in other countries? (Project three – Project one extension, forthcoming.)

Project one aimed to investigate whether one lower gun crime UK police force could further improve the efficiency, quality and timeliness of their firearm-related evidence recovery and submission to NABIS. The objectives were to:

  • assess the level of understanding of the terms firearm evidence and ballistic material by actors within the submission workflow 

  • understand the entire firearm evidence submission process from crime scenes, police stations and property stores within police forces and any counties where cross –border investigations operate 

  • understand the current strengths, barriers and challenges to delivering effective, efficient and timely firearm evidence recovery and submission to NABIS through the 3/4 perspective of relevant personnel working in the police force, NABIS and relevant forensic science providers 

  • identify the future opportunities and potential solutions for improving the quality, quantity and timeliness of firearm-related evidence submission within the force’s processes 

  • propose a model of best practice for enhancing and improving practice, policy and process within other lower gun crime forces to improve the quality and quantity of firearm evidence and intelligence collected, recorded and submitted to further enhance NABIS’s effectiveness.

Following the findings and recommendations proposed in Project one, Project two aims to provide an evidence base on which to further enhance the awareness and understanding of criminally used firearms, ammunition and all other associated firearm-related evidence within policing and law enforcement.

The objectives are to:

  • identify what training is currently provided, how frequently, to who and by whom 
  • identify which mechanisms of training are currently being provided 
  • understand the views of trainees and trainers across a range of professional roles and assess the level of consistency in current training provision 
  • undertake a gap analysis to identify deficits in existing training provision to propose new training opportunities to expand the existing UK law enforcement training portfolio 
  • propose effective and efficient delivery mechanisms for UK training providers

Findings from this research project feed directly into NABIS, specifically into the External Training Task and Finish Group in the case of Project two. However, we hope the project outcomes will inform and further develop policy, process, training and practice related to the criminal use of firearms and ammunition across all relevant stakeholders nationally.

These projects are delivered through the valuable contributions of research assistants Lauren Yare (Project one), Rubin Nsiah (Project two) and Sara Emmesjoe (Project three forthcoming), NABIS and of course all our research participants.

Our research outputs will be disseminated nationally through a variety of platforms including the College of Policing’s research projects map and Knowledge Hub, the FCN, Staffordshire University’s STORE and the Centre of Crime, Justice and Security.

Research methodology

Projects one and three use a mixed methods approach to gather insight from a range of police and forensic practitioners involved in the firearm-related evidence submission workflow. Qualtrics questionnaires are used to anonymously gather responses from a large number of police officers, whereas recorded semi-structured interviews are held with forensic professionals, which are typically smaller in numbers.

Project two, however, only uses a Qualtrics questionnaire to maximise efficiently in the collection of qualitative and quantitative data from a diverse range of professionals working in policing and/or law enforcement agencies across the UK.

In all projects, participation is voluntary and recruitment involves numerous approaches. Researchers will use their professional networks and directly correspond with individuals working in relevant positions and organisations. Contacts will be asked to voluntarily share the questionnaire through their own professional networks and wherever possible seek force/agency approval to distribute centrally through the organisation.

The research will be advertised through the Forensic Capability Network’s monthly newsletter. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will also be used to expand the awareness of the research and gather responses and insight from as many appropriate respondents as possible.

All recorded interviews will be translated where needed, transcribed, coded and thematically analysed. Qualitative responses to free text questions within the questionnaire will also be translated if required, coded and thematically analysed. SPSS will be used to perform quantitative data analysis and statistical analysis where appropriate.

Interim reports or publications

The report resulting from Project one was published in September 2020 and disseminated through FCN Newsletter in December 2020.

It is also available through Staffordshire University’s online repository

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