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While I took pictures in the DNA unit of the San Diego Police Department’s crime lab, one of the criminalists recommended that I take a peek at the firearms department.

They have all the cool toys, she told me.

So, along with crime lab manager Mike Grubb, I headed to the firearms room.

Inside, I found what was admittedly much more visually interesting then scientists in lab coats with test tubes. The crime lab’s firearms collection is complete with a bevy of revolvers, pistols and even assault rifles.

They serve a few purposes. If police recover a weapon from a crime scene that’s damaged in some way, criminalists can take pieces from these guns, reassemble the crime scene weapon and then test-fire the gun.

Grubb recalls an instance where these weapons came in handy when he worked in a crime lab in Washington. A suspect had smashed his revolver with a sledgehammer after murdering someone. Much of the gun was in pieces, but the barrel remained intact.

Grubb reassembled the gun using scrap pieces from the police collection. He was then able to fire the weapon with the same type of bullets used in the murder. Prosecutors can then show that the type of bullets found in a victim, or at a crime scene, could have reasonably been fired from a weapon police tie in some way to a suspect.

After showing me the firearm collection, Grubb led me back to a room filled with microscopes and lit completely red. Criminalists use the microscopes to compare test-fired bullets to bullets from a crime scene.

The room is lit red because, after hours of peering through a microscope, the red tint of the room offers some relief to the eyes.

— SAM HODGSON

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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