The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is an information system that contains records contributed by and accessible to criminal justice agencies nationwide. Its purpose is to enhance officer and public safety, and it has been called the lifeline of law enforcement.
The FBI launched the NCIC in 1967 with only five files and 356,784 records. In the beginning, only 15 state and city computers were tied to the Bureau’s host computer. Within four years, all 50 states were connected to the NCIC.
As of 2023, the NCIC has 22 files with more than 18 million active records and averages millions of transactions each day with a millisecond response time.
How the NCIC is Used
Criminal justice agencies enter records into the NCIC, and the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division serves as the custodian of those records. The records are available to authorized law enforcement and criminal justice agencies nationwide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The NCIC serves more than 100,000 criminal justice and law enforcement partners. The most recognizable use of the system is by officers during routine traffic stops. The system responds instantly to let officers know, for example, if the driver is wanted or if the vehicle is stolen. A positive response (a “hit”) from the NCIC doesn't establish probable cause for an officer to make an arrest. Agencies must verify that the information is accurate and up-to-date (confirm the “hit”) before taking official action upon the NCIC record. The information contained in the NCIC System’s files has abundant applications.
The information can help law enforcement and criminal justice communities:
- enhance officer and public safety.
- find and apprehend fugitives.
- locate missing persons.
- identify terrorists and convicted sexual offenders.
- locate and return stolen property.
Although the use of the NCIC System is voluntary, participation is vital. Complete, accurate, and timely entry of records is essential to ensure system integrity and protect law enforcement officers and the public.
In addition, agencies must enter, modify, and remove their own records. Promptness in modifying, locating, or clearing records in the system helps keep the information up-to-date and the system free of outdated information.
Collaboration is Key
The NCIC's development began when the FBI and a professional association for police leaders worked together to create an advisory board of state and local police to develop standards. The Department of Commerce was also consulted to build an effective telecommunications system.
Since its inception, the NCIC has operated under a shared management concept. This means that the FBI and its federal, state, local, and tribal criminal justice users collaborate and share in the responsibility of the NCIC system. Users have input on NCIC policy through the CJIS Division's Advisory Policy Board.
The NCIC System contains several categories of records, or files, developed exclusively for officer safety. These include the Extreme Risk Protection Order File, Blue Alert Functionality, and the Violent Person File.
The Extreme Risk Protection Order File contains court orders temporarily restricting an individual from purchasing or possessing a firearm, ammunition, or other related items, based on a finding that they may pose a significant danger of personal injury to themselves or others.
A Blue Alert is a state-activated notification sent through an established network when an officer has been seriously injured, killed, or has gone missing in the line of duty; or there is a credible threat an individual will cause serious injury or death of an officer. Upon entering “BLUE ALERT” into an NCIC record, the inquirer of the record will be alerted to use extreme caution when approaching the individual or vehicle.
The Violent Person File was created in response to a rise in law enforcement officers being injured or killed in the line of duty (LEOKA resources) and was designed to provide an alert that an individual they're encountering may have the propensity for violence. The Violent Person File contains records on individuals with previous violent convictions and an expressed intent to commit violence against a member of the law enforcement or criminal justice community. A positive Violent Person File response can serve as an alert for law enforcement, but a hit upon a record, standing alone, doesn't establish probable cause for an officer to arrest the person in question. This alert could help reduce the number of officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty.
Information must be entered into the NCIC System before it can be accessed across jurisdictional lines and enhance officer and public safety. Contact the NCIC Training Team at 877-FBI-NCIC (324-6242) or NCICtraining@fbi.gov for more information on the NCIC Violent Person File or how your agency can participate.
There are seven property files including:
- License Plate
- Vehicle/Boat Part
There are 15 persons files including:
- Extreme Risk Protection Order
- Foreign Fugitive
- Identity Theft
- Immigration Violator
- Threat Screening Center
- Missing Person
- National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denied Transaction
- National Sex Offender Registry
- Protection Order
- Protective Interest
- Supervised Release
- Unidentified Person
- Violent Person
- Wanted Person
The system also contains images that can be matched with an NCIC record to help identify people and property items.