Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
As part of my series of articles on criminal forensics, this week we will look at the field of ballistics and what a ballistics expert does to help solve crimes. Ballistics is one of the most important fields of criminal forensics. A ballistics expert can tell what kind of bullet or projectile was used in a crime and also what type of weapon that fired the projectile.
Like most other forensic sciences, ballistics is an exact science. When a bullet is fired from a gun, it makes marks in the barrel. These marks are called striations and each striation is just like a fingerprint. No two weapons barrels are the same. Each one is different, even if the weapons are the same make and model. So like fingerprints, a ballistics expert can tell exactly which projectile came from which weapon, providing that the scientist has all of the information. This study is called ballistic fingerprinting.
Ballistics experts do most of their work in a laboratory setting but are also called to crime scenes to help preserve the evidence of firearms and projectiles. The expert may also analyze a crime scene where bullets or projectiles are involved in order to tell the trajectory of the bullet or from what angle it was fired from in order to tell where the person was standing when he fired he weapon. They also use strings and lasers to find the angle and trajectory of the bullet from where it was found at the scene.
If anyone is thinking about ballistics as a career field, you should know that it is very science intensive. A Bachelor's degree in forensics science, or criminal justice is preferred as well. Sciences like physics, calculus, chemistry, biology and analytic geometry among other sciences. Ballistics experts are crucial to law enforcement on every level from local law enforcement to federal law enforcement but they can also be hired as private consultants.
Besides schooling, people entering the ballistics career field will normal study under a ballistics expert for a couple of years or more, plus they continue their education throughout their career. Some federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, have firearms identification training every year as well.