The heart of the mission of state and federal criminal history repositories is to maintain comprehensive criminal history records or “rap sheets.”
The criminal history record typically describes offenses and the offender, and includes fingerprint identification, notifications of arrest and subsequent dispositions. Criminal records are compiled using data provided by all components of the justice system: law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections.
Every state has established a criminal record repository that maintains these records and identification data, and responds to inquiries for law enforcement purposes, background checks, and national security.
Accurate, timely, and complete criminal history records are critical to the fair and smooth functioning of the justice system. Good quality records:
- Enable states to immediately identify persons who are prohibited from firearms purchases or are ineligible to hold positions of responsibility involving children, the elderly, or the disabled.
- Enable criminal justice agencies to make decisions on pretrial release, career criminal charging, determinate sentencing, correctional assignments, and more.
- Are critical to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations and decision making.
- Are required by law for background checks for national security, employment, licensing, facility access, visa applications, and related economic purposes.
How did SEARCH get involved in CHRI exchange?
Project SEARCH, the forerunner to today’s SEARCH, was founded in 1969 under a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). Project SEARCH’s first major effort was to develop and successfully demonstrate a prototype information system in six states for the interstate exchange of criminal history records. That prototype system eventually encompassed 20 states and in a very real sense was the forerunner of the III. In developing that demonstration system, it became clear that security, privacy and confidentiality issues regarding criminal justice information would require special attention leading to a series of published Technical Reports beginning in 1970 and culminating in the 1975 Technical Report 13 Standards for the Security and Privacy of Criminal History Record Information. These standards served as the basis for the LEAA’s development of comprehensive regulations for criminal history information adopted in March 1976.
(28 C.F.R. Part 20)
SEARCH’s Role in CHRI
SEARCH has worked closely with the state criminal history repositories for nearly 45 years to improve record quality and completeness. For example:
- Working with the U.S. Department of Justice, SEARCH has developed successive generations of privacy and security policies that are reflected in both DOJ regulations and Federal legislation.
- SEARCH is a founding member of the Joint Task Force on Rap Sheet Standardization (JTF), which created and updated a series of formats for transmitting detailed, comprehensive criminal record information. Currently, about half the States and the FBI have adopted or are implementing the standardized rap sheet. (Note:This link displays a CAPTCHA anti-spam query box that requires you to enter text first in order to access the site.)
- SEARCH provides assistance under the BJS-administered National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) , which focuses on supporting state and court initiatives to improve the rap sheet’s accuracy, completeness, timeliness, and immediate availability.
- SEARCH supports the nationwide implementation of criminal justice and noncriminal justice background check systems. These include systems, administered by the FBI or DOJ, that permit interstate access to criminal records maintained in all 50 states:
- National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Index
- National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and its National Protection Order File
- Interstate Identification Index (III)
- National Sex Offender Registry
- Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)
- Next Generation Identification
Today, the compilation and dissemination of rap sheets continues to change with law, practice and technology. Through this evolution, SEARCH continues to be involved in national initiatives that address legal and policy issues affecting criminal history records, including improving record quality and availability. We support balancing society’s need for criminal history information with individual rights, and efforts to improve state participation in national initiatives.
In addition to our continued participation in the Rap Sheet JTF, we —
- provide subject matter expert support to the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Council, which governs noncriminal justice use of the III
- serve on the Disposition Task Force of the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services’ Advisory Policy Board (CJIS APB), which seeks to improve the level and ease of reporting charge dispositions to state repositories, thus improving the completeness of criminal history records
- provide assistance to states that want to implement record improvements, particularly to fill ‘information gaps’ for NICS reporting
- Use and Management of Criminal History Record Information: A Comprehensive Report, 2001 Update
- Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2012
- Improving Access to and Integrity of Criminal History Records
- Improving Criminal History Records for Background Checks, 2005
Interstate Identification Index
The Interstate Identification Index, known by the acronym III and informally as “Triple I,” is an “index-pointer” system for the interstate and Federal/State exchange of criminal history record information.
Through the III system, the FBI makes available an index listing the names of individuals with criminal history records. An agency seeking information on a specific individual will submit his or her name to the FBI. The Bureau will match the name against the index and then “point” the information request to the database (either State or Federal) where the requested information is maintained. (The III is also used for noncriminal justice uses, such as licensing, that are fingerprint-based, and also links criminal prints to criminal histories even where the prints contain an alias previously unknown to III.)
The index contains information on persons arrested for fingerprintable felonies and misdemeanors under State or Federal law. It includes identification information (for example, name, birth date, race and gender), and FBI and State identification numbers from each State that has information about an individual. As of December 31, 2013, the III referenced the criminal histories of nearly 83 million individuals. All 50 States and the District of Columbia participate in the III. Nineteen states also participate in the National Fingerprint File (NFF). NFF states assume responsibility for providing III-indexed records for criminal and noncriminal requests.
Beginning with its inception in 1969, SEARCH advocated for the III index-pointer concept, which allows State criminal history repositories to be the nation’s primary criminal history information caretakers. Over the past four decades, SEARCH has participated in extensive discussions, including numerous rounds of congressional hearings, during which it presented the States’ point of view that the national exchange of criminal history records is a partnership between the States and FBI.
The FBI began work on the III in 1978 (it came online after being added to the NCIC in 1983). SEARCH assisted the FBI in establishing the III by participating in evaluations to test the index for criminal justice and noncriminal justice criminal history record checks. The FBI also contracted with SEARCH to help formulate policies regulating III use, particularly its use for such noncriminal justice purposes as background checks on persons seeking positions of responsibility involving national security, employment with vulnerable populations, money handling and other activities.
SEARCH was a long-time advocate of the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact , which was enacted by Congress in 1998 as part of the Crime Identification and Technology Act (Public Law 105-251).
The compact governs III use for noncriminal justice purposes. It is overseen by a Compact Council that works in partnership with criminal history record custodians, end users, and policymakers to regulate and facilitate the sharing of criminal history record information while recognizing the importance of individual privacy rights.
In 1999, a SEARCH National Task Force issued a report of conclusions and recommendations after conducting a study to determine the accuracy of identifications resulting from III name-only checks compared to identifications resulting from fingerprint-based searches of the FBI’s criminal history files. The report, Interstate Identification Index Name Check Efficacy: Report of the National Task Force to the U.S. Attorney General, also contained the Task Force’s evaluation of inaccurate or missed identifications resulting from name checks.