Dominican Republic battles gun violence with technology
By Dialogo November 19, 2013
Security forces in the Dominican Republic recently received an important tool in the battle against violent crime.
On Oct. 1, the Caribbean country launched the Ballistic and Biometric Laboratory (LABBS), which is part of the National Weapons System (SISNA). LABBS is helping the Dominican Republic to create a national database of legal firearms and their owners. The database is part of the country’s National Safety Plan.
Being able to quickly trace firearms used in violent crimes should help police identify and capture suspects quickly, authorities believe. Dominican Republic officials estimate that more than 80 percent of the homicides that occur in the country are committed with legal firearms.
“The installation of this system, the most advanced in the world, will achieve greater efficiency and persuade those who commit crimes not to do so. We have organized crime; we cannot have a disorganized state. We have criminals using modern technology, and the government should as well,” MIP Minister José Ramón Fadul said, according to Listín Diario.
The Dominican Republic reported 2,513 homicides in 2012, about 25 killings for every 100,000 residents, according to the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODOC).
A national registry
The Interior and Police Ministry (MIP) is responsible for registering information related to firearms and the private data of gun owners. Dominican officials estimate 235,000 firearms are in the country, which has a population of about 10 million people. “
This will be a national registry, a public registry, where all information on gun owners will be sent. In addition, it is being prepared to include weapons of the Armed Forces and the police,” said Samuel de Moya III, the general director of SISNA.
The database will be used by the MIP, the National Police, the Attorney General’s office, and the National Directorate for Drug Control (DCND), authorities said. The database will help authorities conduct criminal investigations and gather evidence to use in court prosecutions.
Four integrated systems
LABBS consists of four integrated systems:
• The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is used to quickly identify fingerprints. AFIS is used by major law enforcement agencies throughout the world.
• The Advanced Ballistics Analysis System (ALIAS) helps authorities analyze fingerprints lifted from bullets fired during a violent crime.
• The Firearms Management System is used to keep track of registrations of legal firearms. This includes the issuance, renewal, transfer, and cancellation of firearms permits.
• An integrative computer system consolidates each of these systems, allowing law enforcement investigators to work quickly and efficiently.
Quick response code
The improved technology will not only help authorities investigate violent crimes. It will also improve the system for registering firearms.
Authorities will be able to verify the authenticity of firearms licenses by checking a “quick response code,” known as “QR.” New and renewed firearms licenses will have a dot matrix or a two-dimensional bar code that authorities can quickly check to verify the license is authentic.
Dominican security agents can use a smart phone to scan new firearms licenses to check on their authenticity, SISNA officials said.
For the first time ever, Dominican gun owners are being required to bring their firearms with them when they renew their licenses. About 135,000 Dominican gun owners renew their licenses annually.
Dominican gun owners pay about $230 (USD) for a new firearms license and $77 (USD) to renew an existing license. Every day, about 100 people throughout the country take a shooting test to obtain or renew a permit to carry a firearm, authorities said.
The administration of then- President Leonel Fernández launched the program in 2010.
The project cost the Dominican government about $22 million (USD), authorities said. More than 60 high-trained technicians work on the LABBS program, authorities said.
The system will become stronger
Because LABBS allows authorities to collect data on firearms and their owners, it will become more useful as more information is collected, said MIP Minister Fadul.
“The system will strengthen as licenses or permits for carrying or owning a firearm expire. The goal is to have the database ready, or in the final stage, in order to continue with the other stages, which will have complete control of the legal firearms market,” Fadul said.
Antonio Valerio is the technical director of the LABBS program. Helping security forces quickly obtain information on firearms and their owners should help law enforcement agents capture suspects, which will reduce the rate of violence, Valerio said.
"Through the registration and control of weapons, the Dominican government seeks to prevent practices that facilitate criminal offenses,” said Daniel Matul Romero, a security analyst at the university of Costa Rica. “This lab is a good initiative because it is not an isolated action. It is an action that is inserted within a greater security policy. It is on the right track.”
The Dominican government faces three challenges, according to Matul Romero: getting the public to take part in the registration process, shielding the system from tampering so that it remains a solid and transparent mechanism, and ensuring that all the data stored will serve to guide public policy decisions.