NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The NOPD ballistics unit is about to win a big award for clearing a huge backlog.
It may have also played a major role helping solve a Lakefront-area murder where a victim's son was arrested three days ago.
"Once we fire the weapon, the water will stop the projectile to help us recover pristine projectiles," said officer and Crime Lab examiner Sean McElrath as he fires bullets from a .45-caliber handgun into a specially designed water tank.
That firing helps determine if a particular gun can be linked to or eliminated from consideration in crime.
"Obviously you want to look at a perfect reference bullet, as opposed to one that's been through a wall, or human body," McElrath said.
Within seconds after firing at their Lakefront facility, McElrath can place a bullet under a microscope and determine if the weapon he's examining was used in a recent crime.
"So just from doing that I'm able to determine that this firearm here fired those cartridges, that was used in that crime," McElrath said.
Such technology may have been crucial in an arrest in the murder of Herbert Meyers Jr., who was killed in his home on Oriole Street nine days ago. Meyers' son claimed he came upon the crime scene and used his own AK-47 in a gunfight with intruders, whom he said were also armed with AK-47s. Only one AK was found at the scene, and within five days of the shooting, the son was arrested.
"We were able to get the results immediately," said veteran criminalist Meredith Acosta.
The ballistics unit will next week win an NOPD commendation for it's role in this and other cases, clearing a big backlog in ballistics tests, that would have normally been shipped out for analysis by another department years ago, delaying justice in many cases. One of the big reasons the NOPD cleared it's big backlog is they now have three microscope stations, each manned by an examiner. They help each other out with almost instant peer review in each case.
That wasn't always the case for the NOPD, which hasn't had to call on State Police for ballistics help in four years.
"You can have three people working at the same time in the same room," Acosta said.
Staffers say the way cases are prioritized has helped make a difference. With murders on the rise, ballistics examiners hope to continue to play a key role in solving cases, involving guns.