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NCIC 2000.

In 1968, the FBI searched its new computer system to identify fugitives whose fingerprints might match a latent print taken from the gun that killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The search revealed 1,200 possibilities. A closer examination by FBI fingerprint experts resulted in an exact match--James Earl Ray, the man subsequently convicted for the murder. [1] Twenty-seven years later, federal investigators ran Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh's name through this same system and discovered that an Oklahoma state trooper had stopped this individual a little more than an hour after and about 88 miles away from the site of the explosion. The police still had McVeigh in custody. [2]

Between these two major incidents, countless other successful investigations have proved the merit of this computer system. Law enforcement agencies have used it to help them solve crimes that perhaps otherwise would have remained unsolved. What system has assisted the criminal justice community so ably for over 30 years?

Background

The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is an online computer system dedicated to serving law enforcement and criminal justice agencies throughout the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, and Canada. Since NCIC's inception in January 1967, transactions have gone from 2 million for that entire first year to approximately 2.5 million a day currently. Interestingly, the FBI accounts for only about 1 percent of all NCIC transactions, indicating that nearly 99 percent of all NCIC inquiries come from other federal, state, or local criminal justice agencies. [3]

Over the years, law enforcement personnel have grown increasingly reliant on the NCIC database, basically a computerized index of documented criminal justice information concerning crimes and criminals. [4] This index includes files, or databases, on wanted persons, stolen property, criminal histories, and other information compiled during the investigation of crimes. In addition, the data bank contains locator-type files on missing and unidentified persons.

For three decades, NCIC has efficiently and reliably aided the criminal justice community in its effort to safeguard law-abiding citizens. However, it has long since outlived its intended computer-system life. Therefore, the FBI implemented the new generation of NCIC--NCIC 2000--in July 1999. NCIC 2000, with its powerful new computers and software technology, takes up the challenge of meeting the ever-increasing demand for instant criminal justice information. Through enhancements to existing systems and newly created capabilities, NCIC 2000 facilitates the exchange of information between agencies, better equips members of the law enforcement community to perform their duties, and increases police officer safety.

Enhancements

NCIC 2000 offers a variety of enhancements within a number of existing NCIC files. For example, the legacy NCIC permitted the entry of only stolen or recovered guns. NCIC 2000 goes a step further by allowing users to enter missing but not necessarily stolen firearms. This increases the pool of identified firearms that users can search when an unidentified gun surfaces during an investigation. An additional improvement enables users to enter the original offense of a wanted person when that individual's current warrant is for a secondary or ancillary offense. Users must enter the original violation when the current offense includes such infractions as escape, parole or probation violation, or failure to appear.

NCIC 2000 also expands the information contained in missing person records by allowing users to indicate whether a stranger abducted an individual, a noncustodial parent took a child, or a person ran away. The new system also captures and stores information regarding the theft of hazardous materials and provides users with the convenience of retrieving specific types of information online rather than in hard-copy format. This online enhancement enables users to submit several inquiries together on wanted or missing persons, vehicles, boats, guns, articles, or securities and to receive the collected results via a file transfer. In the near future, this improvement also will allow users to access NCIC 2000 operating and code manuals online.

New Capabilities

NCIC 2000 performs all of the functions of the legacy system augmented with impressive new capabilities. These include the addition of image processing (i.e., mugshots, signatures, and identifying marks); automated single-finger fingerprint matching; and information linking, which provides the ability to associate logically related records across NCIC files for the same criminal or the same crime. For example, an inquiry on a gun also could retrieve a wanted person, a stolen vehicle, or other records associated with the firearm. NCIC 2000 also automates functions that employees previously had to perform manually. For example, the new system supports online validation of records and automatically collects statistics for evaluating the system in terms of usage and benefits.

New databases, such as the Convicted Sexual Offender Registry and the Convicted Person on Supervised Release, now provide law enforcement officers with instantaneous information about the whereabouts of individuals who have entered the criminal justice system. NCIC 2000 searches all transactions against the new Convicted Sexual Offender Registry. This provides officers with information on convicted sexual offenders under a wide variety of circumstances. For example, the ability to conduct online searches by zip code, which may identify possible suspects during an active investigation, represents a unique feature of the registry. Further, the new Convicted Person on Supervised Release database helps local, state, and federal law enforcement officers and probation and parole officers maintain information concerning the conduct and whereabouts of convicted criminals currently on supervised release. These subjects, previously convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime, must meet specific conditions related to th eir release. While not a wanted person file, this database instead provides information to supervising officials to determine the appropriate action they should take based on the subjects' conduct while on supervised release.

A new feature, with perhaps the most potential, stores and retrieves digital images on records pertaining to persons, vehicles, and articles. NCIC 2000 can associate a mugshot, fingerprint and signature, and 10 identifying photographs with a wanted, missing, or unidentified person record. It also can attach one identifying photograph to a vehicle, boat, vehicle part, or article record. This new capability can help law enforcement officers in many ways, from identifying individuals stopped for traffic violations to finding missing children to returning stolen property to its rightful owners.

Challenges

Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies represent the driving force behind the success of NCIC 2000. However, success has not come without some challenges along the way. For example, one specific NCIC 2000 concept that held promise as a valuable tool for law enforcement in theory demonstrated problems for users in reality. From the beginning, the delayed inquiry functioned as an integral part of NCIC 2000. This feature allows the new system to store an inquiry for 5 days. During that time, the system would compare any subsequently entered or modified records with the stored inquiries. The system would send any matches, or "hits," resulting from this process to both the entering agency and inquiring agencies automatically. However, immediately after NCIC 2000 became operational, the FBI received complaints from users that the delayed inquiry caused them to receive an excessive number of notifications. Therefore, the FBI disabled the function until it could conduct further research into the problem. Once the FBI has modified the delayed-inquiry processing requirements to avoid these problems, it will reactivate this feature.

Another area in the new system that requires additional attention involves the planned index of individuals incarcerated in federal prisons. This feature would notify agencies entering warrants whenever the subject of their warrant was currently incarcerated in a federal prison so they could file a detainer. However, because the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) maintains this information, the FBI and the FBOP must review carefully the specifications for the transfer of the data to preserve the accuracy of the system.

Criminal justice users also face challenges with the new system. They must find the resources to take advantage of the new enhancements and capabilities of NCIC 2000. [5] Prior to the advent of the new system, the FBI upgraded all of the telecommunication lines from its main computer to the states' receiving centers to support NCIC 2000's new capabilities. However, agencies also may have to update their systems to experience the new features of NCIC 2000. For example, once agencies decide to support the new image capability, they will need the infrastructure in place for the increase in transaction size and volume. Moreover, although the FBI provides the image-processing software used to process fingerprint images, agencies must integrate this free software into their state and local systems and may have to purchase commercial, off-the-shelf software to support the image-processing software and the equipment (e.g., laser printer, document scanner, single-fingerprint scanner, and digital camera) needed to cap ture and display the fingerprint images.

How quickly local, state, and federal agencies can implement NCIC 2000 depends on the varying requirements and mandates that govern them. States have a 3-year transition period to implement NCIC 2000. Because computers become obsolete relatively quickly, this 3-year transition period will give agencies some time to acquire newer models and the additional equipment capable of supporting NCIC 2000. [6]

Conclusion

For over 30 years, the FBI's National Crime Information Center has provided the law enforcement community with a valuable crime-solving tool. With databases containing critical investigative information, NCIC often has made the difference between a successful resolution of a crime and a failure to bring the guilty to justice.

With the rapid advancements in technology, however, the original NCIC began to suffer from many of the same ills that affect all longstanding computer systems. To combat these problems and bring NCIC into the 21st century, the FBI implemented the next generation of this well-used system--NCIC 2000. The new capabilities and refinements of NCIC 2000 will not only continue to provide criminal justice professionals with instant access to crucial investigative information but also stand as a bulwark in their battle against increasingly sophisticated criminals.

Endnotes

(1.) "National Crime Information Center: 30 Years on the Beat," The Investigator, December 1996/January 1997; available from http:// www.fbi.gov/library/2000/ncicinv.htm; accessed May 12, 2000.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Ibid.

(4.) To ensure the validity of the records, the investigating agency enters the information into the system, and only the agency entering the records can update or clear these entries.

(5.) Agencies can obtain grant information from several Internet sources, including the U.S. Department of Justice at http:// www.ojp.usdoj.gov; the Bureau of Justice Assistance's Local Law Enforcement Block Grants program at http.//www.ncjrs.org/leblock.htm; and Justice Grants at http://www.ncjrs.org/fedgrant.htm; accessed May 12, 2000. Also, the General Services Administration offers the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance via its Internet site at http://www.cfda.gov; accessed May 12, 2000.

(6.) For additional information on technical support for NCIC 2000, see Rebecca Kanable, "NCIC 2000 Sets wheels in Motion for Mug-shot Sharing Nationally," Law Enforcement Technology, October 1999, 98-100; or contact the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Education/Training Services Unit, Module E-3, Clarksburg, WV 26306-0156, 888-827-6427.

The Original NCIC Versus NCIC 2000

While on patrol, an officer notices an automobile weaving through heavy traffic, stops the car, and radios the dispatcher for an NCIC check on the driver. Within moments, the dispatcher advises the officer that the search proved negative.

From January 1967 though June 1999, this outcome could have occurred fairly often. However, in July 1999, NCIC 2000 became operational, and this scenario now could have several different endings. For example, because of the new Convicted Sexual Offender Registry and the Convicted Persons on Supervised Release file, the search could show that the driver, who has a young child in the car, is a registered sexual offender who should not be with a young child. Or, it could reveal that the driver, who resides in another state, is on parole and should not have left the state. These substantially different results demonstrate the potential that the enhancements and new capabilities of NCIC 2000 bring to the criminal justice community's continuing efforts to safeguard law-abiding citizens.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:National Crime Information Center
Author:HITT, STEPHANIE L.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:2010
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