In the constant battle to stay a step ahead of criminals, police sometimes rely on scientific breakthroughs.
From the discovery of fingerprints to DNA analysis to ballistics testing of guns, the police crime lab has always been an integral part of solving crimes. Now the latest breakthrough is happening here in South Florida, at a chemistry lab on the Florida International University campus.
"Newly developed technology known as ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled to electro-spray mass spectrometry," said Dr. Bruce McCord, speaking a language familiar only to those in his field, forensic chemistry.
Basically, McCord has developed a new test to determine if someone has fired a particular gun. Tests like that already exist, but they rely on heavy metals in gunpowder, like lead, antimony, and barium being detected on a suspect's hands. As McCord explains, the gun industry is moving away from using lead in gunpowder, so a new test had to be found to detect the newer gunpowders being used in today's bullets.
"Our test is an alternate procedure and in some cases, if there isn't any lead in the primer or powder, it might be the only way to determine if someone fired a gun," said McCord.
The FIU test is done the same way as the current test: a suspect's hand is swabbed, and then the swab is analyzed. That's where there's a difference: McCord's procedure utilizes more advanced technology to search for different components in lead-free gunpowder.
"When these kinds of incidents occur," McCord says, speaking about gunshot crimes, "there's always a victim who would like to have an answer to what happened to them, and if we can provide some assistance to them and help law enforcement, we're very happy."
The procedures being developed at FIU aren't yet being used to catch criminals, but McCord is confident that one day soon, his techniques will be standard tools in crime labs around the world.