Originally published in the April 2014 edition of the CJIS Link, Volume 16, Number 1
What do empty filing cabinets in West Virginia have to do with public safety and law enforcement catching bad guys?
More than 20 years ago, back when the FBI’s Identification Division resided in Washington, D.C., the Bureau had 8.8 million manual criminal history records stored in 1,045 bulky metal filing cabinets. The division began a project to convert these hardcopy records, which contained rap sheets, criminal and civil fingerprint cards, dispositions, flashes, expungements, wants, and other various correspondences that related to individuals’ criminal histories, into electronic files. Keeping in mind that the FBI is required to maintain files until a subject is 110 years old (though for a while, the retention age was 80), it was a lot of paper.
When the Identification Division moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia, to become the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division in the early 1990s, the Conversion Project became a priority. With the advent of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in 1999, response times for law enforcement agencies were reduced to minutes. However, fingerprint submissions which were idented (or determined to be a match) to a criminal history record could take hours to complete. The CJIS Division kept automating the manual criminal history records until the project was completed.
On January 30, 2014, the last manual conversion jacket was automated. CJIS Division personnel gathered to watch the ceremonial processing of the final pieces of the culmination of the 20-year project. Not only did it signify the end of years of work, but it also ended law enforcement’s wait for criminal history information from the FBI. Now, if the CJIS Division has it, it’s electronic, and law enforcement will have it in the 2 minutes and 5 seconds it takes to process criminal inquiries or 49 minutes and 30 seconds for civil inquiries.
There’s a “green” bonus to celebrate as well. All the records that have been automated have added up to several tractor trailer loads of paper and filing cabinets being recycled.