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Crime-fighting system a likely contender for 2013 budget funding

by Pallavi Singhal •
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Justice Minister Jason Clare has told the Federal Parliament this week that Australia needs a nationally coordinated ballistics identification system if it is serious about putting a halt to increasing gun crime.

“This is effectively technology that enables police to identify, from the firearm they seize, the firearm's involvement in previous crimes. It is like DNA testing for stolen weapons,” he said during the 5 February sitting.

The agency in charge of overseeing the sharing of information between the Nation’s law enforcement agencies, CrimTrac, has confirmed that it will be seeking funding for the project ahead of the 2013-14 Budget.

 “CrimTrac will seek funding after the business case is completed in March 2013,” said a Department spokesperson. “The project is expected to begin in July 2013 following approval of the business case.”

The cost of the project “may be subject to a tender process”, said the spokesperson.

Endorsement on the floor of Parliament makes it all the more likely that funding for the project will be approved by Treasury for inclusion in the 2013-14 Budget, due towards the middle of this year.

Gun crime has emerged as a key community issue in the lead up to the September Federal Election, especially in the crucial electorates of Sydney’s west. In the last Budget before the election, the Gillard Government will no doubt want to give the appearance of taking an active stance on combating the trend.

An Australian Ballistics Identification Network will be based on systems already in use by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the NSW Police Force. The core of Network will be the Firearms Reference Table developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1994 for $3 million, and currently in use in Australia by Victoria Police.

The NSW Police Force is currently undertaking a $1.25 million upgrade of its Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) to 3D in a three-year deal with Forensic Technology. The original IBIS 2D Heritage System was implemented in June 2000, and has since been used to link over 730 firearm-related crimes.

This is one of three national ICT systems to be implemented by CrimTrac in the coming years to provide law enforcement with access to integrated firearms data and information for cross-jurisdictional collaboration.

The National Firearms Identification Database and the National Firearms Register have also been designed to improve firearm tracking and address the growing issue of unregistered or illicit weapons being used in gun crimes.

Funding options and a model for the National Firearms Register are currently under development, with a benefits analysis being conducted by Nous Consulting Group. The firm was contracted by CrimTrac under a $400,000 deal from October 2012 to February 2013. The results of the consultancy are to be considered at the next Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management (SCPEM) on 28 June 2013, and may result in the development of a business case ahead of the 2014-15 Federal Budget.

The National Firearms Identification Database, a searchable web interface for identifying firearms across jurisdictions, is nearing completion. The first stage of implementation is due to occur in quarter one of 2013 with the release of the central application, the online database set. This will provide law enforcement with extensive reference information, including key descriptions, images and configuration details.

“The National Firearms Identification Database was developed internally at CrimTrac using data provided by Victoria Police,” said the spokesperson.

The trio of ICT systems are part of a package of reforms on gun control presented to SCPEM in June 2012. A report compiled by the Australian Institute of Criminology found more than 30 databases for firearms registration are currently in use across Australia, resulting in systemic weaknesses and a lack of compatibility across jurisdictions.

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) found that there were over 2.75 million registered firearms across the 30 databases, as at June 2012. Over 14,000 firearms are lost track of every year, according to CrimTrac. The ACC estimates that the cost of organised crime to society exceeds $10 billion.

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