Home News Stories 2010 January How We Search Crime Records Off-Line

How We Search Crime Records Off-Line

When Off-Line is Better
Another Way to Search Crime Records


NCIC computers
The average response time for criminal records queries to NCIC is .06 seconds.

Almost six million times a day, law enforcement officers from around the country conduct online searches of our electronic repository of criminal justice records called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). They’re looking for information and possible leads on fugitives, missing persons, terrorists, convicted sex offenders, violent gang members, stolen property, and more.

Sometimes, though, agencies don’t have enough data for an electronic search or need additional information no longer available. So we offer another investigative tool—the off-line search—which searches information in the database a different way or looks through records no longer available on the NCIC server.

During the past fiscal year, CJIS ran more than 22,000 off-line searches for law enforcement.

NCIC: A Quick Rundown

- Initially created in 1967 to help find fugitives and stolen property.

- Over the years, additional capabilities and categories added (i.e., missing/unidentified persons, violent gangs/terrorist organizations, identity theft victims, immigration violators).

- 11.7 million records currently in NCIC

- Records come from FBI, other federal agencies, state/local law enforcement, authorized courts.

- Accessed by more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies from squad cars, squad rooms, and increasingly, PDAs.

- First year of operation, handled 2 million transactions

- Fiscal Year 2009, handled almost 2.5 billion.

- Averages 6.7 million transactions a day.

- Average response time is 0.06 seconds.

Kinds of off-line searches include:

  • Use of non-unique personal descriptors, like sex, height, estimated age, and hair color (these descriptors can be used in online searches but only in conjunction with other identifiers, like a person’s name and date of birth);
  • Partial information searches (i.e., an officer only has three or four characters of a license plate or only half of a vehicle identification number);
  • Checks of purged records (records that have been removed by law enforcement or as result of varying retention schedules); and
  • Searches of NCIC’s transaction logs, which may uncover other queries on the same suspect made by another law enforcement agency (can help establish a suspect’s whereabouts).

Perhaps one of the more well-known examples of an off-line NCIC search involved Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

  • After identifying McVeigh as the renter of the explosives-laden Ryder truck, investigators passed us his name for all available information on him. An off-line search of NCIC’s transaction log showed that about 90 minutes after the bombing, the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol made an inquiry on McVeigh. Armed with this information, investigators contacted the highway patrol and found that McVeigh was sitting—two days after the bombing—in a nearby jail cell on unrelated weapons charges.

A more recent example of how off-line searches can make a difference:

  • On September 26, 2009, a 13-year-old girl was reported missing from Daviess County, Kentucky, and her information—including details about the convicted sex offender she was last seen with—was entered into NCIC. That night, an agent from our Louisville office, working with local authorities, contacted CJIS and requested an off-line search of the suspect’s license plate. Very quickly, we discovered that the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Sheriff’s Office had run a check on the license plate earlier that day (before Kentucky officials had a chance to enter the suspect’s plate number into NCIC). Officials in Wisconsin were notified, and the man was located by 4 a.m. the next day in a Wisconsin hotel. The girl was recovered safely.

Both online and off-line NCIC searches are just another example of how we’re leveraging technology and information-sharing to track down criminals.

- More on NCIC