CJIS Division Observes a Milestone
Collecting and Sharing Criminal Justice Information for 25 Years
Twenty-five years ago, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division—the focal point and central repository for all the criminal justice information services within the Bureau—was created.
To understand the significance of the CJIS Division, however, you first have to understand how the FBI’s role as the keeper of the nation’s criminal justice information evolved.
- Around 1920, there was a push by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and others to merge the nation’s two major criminal identification records—the federal one at Leavenworth prison and the IACP’s own set held in Chicago—and make them available to all of law enforcement. Congress provided the funding, and in 1924, the Bureau of Investigation (as the FBI was called at the time) established its Identification Division, which began accepting fingerprints and other criminal identification records and also provided crucial identification services for law enforcement across the country and for our own investigations.
- The IACP also saw a need to collect crime statistics nationally that would enable authorities to understand trends and better focus resources. In 1929, the IACP adopted a system to classify, report, and collect crime statistics. But it then recommended that the Bureau—with its experience in centralizing criminal records—take the lead in the effort. Congress agreed, and the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program was born.
- Fast forward a few years, and in 1967, as computer technology began to make inroads, the FBI launched the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC was created to give our law enforcement partners quick access to a computerized index of documented criminal justice information whenever and wherever they needed it.
Over time, various FBI entities continued to develop and implement additional criminal justice information systems, but the problem was that these systems were being developed independently of each other. There had to be a way to coordinate and integrate these systems to ensure that we were providing the criminal justice community with the best products and best service possible.
“We recognize we can only accomplish our mission by collaborating with and meeting the needs of the agencies we serve.”
Andrew Castor, acting assistant director, FBI CJIS Division
And there was a way. In February 1992, in a memo proposing the creation of a Criminal Justice Information Services Division, a Bureau executive wrote: “The FBI has an opportunity to significantly improve the level of information services provided to the criminal justice community. An all-inclusive CJIS will ensure the needs of our users are met and exceeded well into the 21st century, and the technology advancements gained through the creation of CJIS will ensure that the FBI remains in the forefront of criminal justice information systems worldwide.”
The establishment of this new office—which was, in effect, a one-stop shop for criminal justice information—was quickly approved by the FBI Director.
The CJIS Division initially included the fingerprint identification services from the Identification Division, the UCR Program from the Information Management Division, and the NCIC program from the Technical Services Division. Over the past 25 years, CJIS has successfully overseen the creation of additional criminal justice services to assist our partners. For example:
- The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, launched in 1998, made it possible to determine whether a prospective gun buyer is eligible to buy firearms and explosives.
- In 1999, the Bureau’s fingerprint identification process was automated by the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. And since then, we’ve expanded our focus on fingerprint records from local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement to include those gathered in various counterterrorism operations the U.S. has engaged in worldwide.
- Also in 1999, the National Crime Information Center was upgraded with more capabilities and additional information files.
- In 2007, the Bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence was established to explore and advance the use of new and enhanced biometric tools, technologies, and capabilities for law enforcement and intelligence personnel.
- In 2010, the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) System—providing criminal justice agencies with an online tool for sharing, searching, linking, and analyzing information across jurisdictional boundaries—was launched nationwide.
- In 2013, Law Enforcement Online (LEO)—a secure network launched in 1995 that gave law enforcement around the country access to sensitive but unclassified information—transitioned into the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, or LEEP, a much broader electronic gateway providing law enforcement, intelligence, and criminal justice entities with centralized access to more information, strengthening case development and enhancing information sharing.
- In 2014, the Bureau announced the full operational capability of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System, developed to expand the Bureau’s biometric identification capabilities and to replace IAFIS.
So what about the next 25 years? There are already plans afoot to enhance services provided by CJIS, including the next iteration of the NCIC, additional capabilities for the NGI system, the development of a national use-of-force data collection, and the expanding and deepening of UCR crime data.
But all of this, according to CJIS Acting Assistant Director Andrew Castor, is being done in consultation with our law enforcement partners. “We continue to be committed to providing the best possible tools to fight crime and terrorism across our nation and around the globe,” he explains, “but we recognize we can only accomplish our mission by collaborating with and meeting the needs of the agencies we serve.”