Interstate Criminal History Transmission Specification Keeps Pace with the Times


The Interstate Criminal History Transmission Specification, designed to provide consistency in the data elements and presentation format of electronically exchanged criminal history records, continues to evolve to keep pace with advances in technology.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) on Rap Sheet Standardization recently completed work on Version 3.0 of the specification, which will bring it into compliance with the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM), according to Gerry Coleman, JTF Chair and Director of the Crime Information Bureau for the Wisconsin Department of Justice. (The GJXDM is an object-oriented data model for organizing the content of a data dictionary in a database.)

"There are millions of data exchanges among justice agencies everyday," Coleman said. "The transmission specification is just one kind of exchange package that will benefit from standardization using the GJXDM. Eventually, justice information will become more valuable and useful as a national agreement is reached on data descriptions and content."

Andy Herberger, Information Technology Specialist for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, said the Bureau is converting to the 3.0 version of the transmission specification from the previous version (2.22) and hopes to be done by September. "It's really just an exercise in changing the tag names and moving some things around," Herberger said.

Version 3.0 is the latest iteration in a series of rap sheet transmission specifications, the roots of which stem from work conducted by a Bureau of Justice Statistics/SEARCH task force that first met in 1993. After a series of meetings, the National Task Force on Increasing the Utility of the Criminal History Record in 1995 issued a list of recommendations, one being a call for consistency in the data elements included in exchanged criminal history records, and in the format in which the exchanged information was presented.

The recommendation was based on a task force finding that the wide variety of criminal codes and presentation formats used internally by justice agencies were difficult to interpret and to extract information from when exchanged with other justice agencies. The JTF was formed following publication of the task force's report to pursue the creation of a rap sheet transmission specification that would present responses to criminal record queries in a presentation format and with data elements that readers could understand.

The JTF includes representatives from the FBI, the FBI-CJIS Advisory Policy Board, the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS), SEARCH, and state and local law enforcement agencies. The first transmission specification was written using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) formatting, originally developed for commercial use. No state implemented the EDI specification, which was soon to be rendered obsolete by the emergence of eXtensible Markup Language (XML). In response to growing interest in XML, the JTF began converting the specification from EDI to the new markup language.

On Oct. 8, 2003, Wisconsin became the first state in full production mode to transmit its Interstate Identification Index responses to other states through NLETS using the XML specification. Kentucky followed suit four days later. Today, Maine and the FBI have joined those two states in using the transmission specification, all using the 2.22 version. If all goes as planned, the FBI will begin transmitting criminal history record information using the 3.0 specification later this year. Said Herberger of the FBI, "Hopefully, when NLETS is able to report to its users that the FBI is sending up to a million rap sheets a month using the 3.0 format, more folks will get interested."