The CJIS Division Turns 20

Two Decades of Connecting, Identifying, and Helping Law Enforcement Know

Exterior of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division building in West Virginia.

Twenty years can be a long time or a short period, depending on perspective. It is more than 100 lifetimes to a dragonfly, but it is only .0000002% of the time it takes to create a diamond. To the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, it is the time it has taken to grow from a new idea to an essential tool in the day-to-day gear of the law enforcement and intelligence communities that fight crime and terrorism.

On February 24, 1992, the FBI established the CJIS Division to consolidate fingerprint identification services (long known in the FBI as the Ident Division), the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) under one law enforcement support umbrella. CJIS was designed to be a one-stop shop for information for the cop or analyst. Nearly 1,000 acres of land had been acquired in Clarksburg, West Virginia, to locate a new facility dedicated to providing a new, more efficient fingerprint identification system, as well as other services to local, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.

By 1993 the transformation was complete, and the old Ident Division ceased to exist as CJIS completely absorbed all fingerprint functions. The number of criminal and civil prints processed by CJIS that year was 8.1 million. In 2011, CJIS staff handled more than 6 times that number—almost 51 million fingerprints. During that time, around 444 million fingerprint cards passed through CJIS. When CJIS was created and located in Clarksburg, it was predicted that one of its great advantages would be providing identification of criminal fingerprints in a matter of hours rather than days. With the implementation of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in 1999 and the upgrade to IAFIS with the addition of the Advanced Fingerprint Identification Technology in 2011, the average turnaround time for a criminal print is now between 6 and 7 minutes.

Since 1929, the UCR has been the premier national crime dataset—relied on by law enforcement managers, analysts, and students of crime for its reliable, comprehensive statistics. With over 80 years as the final word on crime in the United States, the UCR Program also lives up to the CJIS maxim of changing, updating, and revitalizing to provide better service. Since joining CJIS, the UCR Program has worked to increase the number of agencies that provide detailed incident-based reporting and has added cargo theft to its collection. The UCR Program is also preparing to add the collection of human trafficking crimes as it brings online a modernized and more efficient system for data collection from its more than 18,000 participating agencies in January 2013.

Since becoming part of CJIS, the NCIC grew from 451 million transactions in 1993 to 2.7 billion in 2011. That time accounts for more than 26 billion responses that the NCIC has provided to law enforcement. Today, the NCIC has more than 11.7 million active records in 19 centralized files that law enforcement can access for investigative purposes.

Even though the numbers are impressive, listing statistics can still be rather dry compared to what they add up to—a lot of essential information put in the hands of officers and analysts who then put it to very good use in keeping our communities and nation safe. Beyond statistics, CJIS strives to be a model of innovation and growth to keep up with the needs of law enforcement and intelligence. 

Since 1995, Law Enforcement Online (LEO) has enabled more efficient law enforcement collaboration. Through its secure Internet site and its Virtual Command Centers that provide Internet-based monitoring and sharing of complex operations, remotely and in real time, LEO provides the criminal justice community with free, safe communication.

In 1998, the FBI rolled out The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, commonly known as NICS, which is housed at CJIS. Since its initial year, when 900,000 transactions were completed, it has grown to provide 16 million checks in 2011. That represents a lot of gun sales approved to law-abiding citizens and a great number of weapons kept out of the wrong hands.

Since its early beginnings in 2008, the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx) has also been housed at CJIS. The N-DEx is a secure, online information sharing system that provides 118 million searchable records with over 720 million entities (persons, places, things, and events). In addition to incident and case reports, arrest, booking, incarceration, parole, and probation data are also available in the N-DEx.

The FBI is also in the process of building the new Biometric Technology Center on the CJIS campus, which will be home to FBI CJIS staff and Department of Defense workers who will labor at the forefront of biometric technologies. In addition, with the FBI’s creation of the Biometric Center of Excellence (BCOE), CJIS hosts the focal point for biometric and identity management activities. The BCOE is charged with the mission of fostering collaboration, improving information sharing, and finding optimal solutions to biometric questions.

Even with all these accomplishments, CJIS is forever in forward motion—improving, updating, building, and adding to its systems and services. We may only be a “20-year-old,” but CJIS has carefully considered, long-term plans.  Whatever challenges or needs may arise for the criminal justice and intelligence communities, CJIS is poised to meet—or exceed—them.