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Survey Insights Blog Series – #2: New Findings from the 2018 Survey of State Criminal History Records Repository Administrators

This is the second in a series of blogs that explore findings from the Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2018, published by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in November 2020. This biennial national survey represents the most current and detailed snapshot of the data, trends, policies, practices, and operations of criminal history records repositories nationwide. SEARCH, with the support of BJS, has conducted these surveys since 1989. The purpose of this blog is to provide an overview of several topics that were enhanced or newly added as a part of the 2018 survey.

In the 2018 survey, SEARCH and BJS expanded the number of questions related to replacement plans for critical criminal justice information system technologies, including computerized criminal history (CCH) systems, automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS), and state message switches.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics routinely provides funding to state and tribal governments for technological improvements designed to enhance the timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of CCH records. This funding is provided through National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) and NICS Act Records Improvement Program (NARIP) grant awards. As such, it is helpful for BJS to know the age of and plans to replace CCH system components to better anticipate the number of funding requests they can expect to receive for these types of projects. Additionally, it is helpful to CCH repository managers to have situational awareness of other states that are in the process of procuring and/or implementing new systems so they can conduct outreach to their counterparts to obtain information regarding ongoing projects to help inform their planning, procurement, and implementation efforts.

For the first time since first conducting this survey, SEARCH requested information regarding operation budgets and staffing levels for criminal history repositories to better understand the variety in the scope and breadth of CCH repository operations. While each state repository is unique, this information may be useful to help states gauge how they compare with their counterparts in other states in terms of levels of funding and personnel.

CCH repositories, AFIS, and State Message Switches

Three core technologies—CCH repositories, AFIS systems, and state message switches—enable repositories to capture arrest and disposition information, positively identify individuals, and support intra- and interstate communication with law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies. These systems also enable repositories to respond to requests for background checks for employment, licensing, volunteer positions, and firearms purchases.

Like all information technology infrastructure, eventually each of these components reaches an end-of-lifecycle point at which the hardware and software is due for replacement or significant upgrade to remain functional.

Age of Critical Systems

For the first time in 2018, SEARCH and BJS asked repository managers when each of these critical systems was last replaced or significantly upgraded.[1] Based on the survey responses, it appears that AFIS upgrades and replacements occur more frequently than those for CCH systems and message switches. The average age of each component was:

  • CCH system – 7.23 years
  • AFIS – 2.96 years
  • Message switch – 6.07 years

When examined a bit closer (Table 1), the ages of state CCH systems vary widely—and the average is driven down, as there have been so many recent replacements (including those that are still in progress). [2] According to the survey, a number of states use systems that are aged a decade or older.


CCH System (n=44)

AFIS (n=49)

Message Switch (n=45)

< 1 year

11 states

12 states

9 states

1‒2 years

6 states

16 states

9 states

3‒5 years

6 states

14 states

8 states

6‒10 years

9 states

4 states

12 states

> 10 years

12 states

3 states

7 states

Table 1

As these vital technology components age, they become increasingly more difficult and often more expensive to manage and maintain. Several states have systems in operation that are two or three decades old. For these states, there is a high likelihood that many of the developers who understand how the applications and interfaces were designed have retired or otherwise separated from the repository—and it can prove challenging (if not impossible) to make any modifications or “fixes” to the systems if problems arise. Additionally, processing times may be slower and available storage for high resolution biometric images may be very limited when relying on antiquated technology.

Benefits of Keeping Core Technologies Current

Modern CCH systems, AFIS, and message switches are designed to be much more agile, configurable and scalable when compared to legacy technologies. Repositories often find that migrating to newer technologies can eliminate many manual processes. These new technologies can also more readily support automated data exchanges with contributing agencies, thus freeing up personnel to work on criminal history record research and improvement efforts rather than focusing on redundant data entry activities.

Newer systems, which often offer features such as cloud hosting, may also be less expensive to maintain because there is less need for on-site application and storage servers that are costly and require ongoing maintenance. Additionally, as the numbers highlighted in the first Survey Insights blog demonstrate, there are persistent and growing demands on repository systems; growing requirements for linkage to courts and prosecutors; growing demand to provide sex offender registration and many other systems; and growing demand for rap-back services—all of which means that repository systems may need updates, refreshes, and complete replacement.

Upgrade/Replacement Plans

Because of the benefits of keeping core technologies current, SEARCH also asked states about planned replacements of their CCH, AFIS, and message switch systems. In analyzing the response to this question, SEARCH found that many states are in various stages of replacing these systems. (Table 2 and Figure 1).[3]






Planning to replace

12 states

12 states

11 states

Reviewing bids/proposals
for replacement

2 states
(Arizona, Maryland)

5 states/territories
(Colorado, Guam, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota)

2 states
(Maryland, North Dakota)

Implementing and testing
new system

7 states

10 states

7 states

Table 2

Figure 1

[1] Since the responses to the survey were received in 2019, some state reported on upgrades/replacements that occurred after December 31, 2018.

[2] Becki R. Goggins and Dennis DeBacco, Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2018, (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2020), Tables 13 and 13a.

[3] Ibid., Table 13a.

BeckiGogginsAbout the Author

Ms. Becki Goggins is Director of Law and Policy at SEARCH. She oversees SEARCH’s work in the areas of criminal history records, development of laws and policies concerning the use of justice information and protection of privacy, implementation of evidence-based practices, and the use of technology to improve justice information sharing. As an organization, SEARCH was originally founded to facilitate the exchange of criminal history record information (CHRI) between the states. Learn more about SEARCH’s work with criminal history records and the surveys we conduct on CHRI issues.

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Karen Lissy

Ms. Karen Lissy is a Justice Information Services Specialist for the Law and Policy Program of SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. In this position, she provides assistance to state and local justice and public safety agencies to collect, curate, and use National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data and computerized criminal history record (CCH/CHRI) information for policy analysis and development.

She also guides justice and related organizations in how to craft and implement laws, policies, practices, and technology applications to effectively collect and use CCH and related justice/public safety data; address legal, policy, and regulatory issues associated with CCH data; better manage and operate criminal justice information and identification systems; and develop security and privacy policies that protect justice information sharing systems.

Ms. Lissy has nearly two decades of research and data analysis experience, having led projects and tasks in support of two agencies within the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Institute of Justice), as well as the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and multiple foundations, including Ford, Annie E. Casey, and Hewlett. Prior to joining SEARCH in October 2020, Ms. Lissy served as a Social Science Researcher at RTI International, as a regional Crime Analyst for the Redmond (WA) Police Department, and as Director of a research program with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Beginning in 2012, Ms. Lissy’s work has focused on improving data in law enforcement to answer policy questions and improve community/police relations.

Ms. Lissy earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University, and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.