Criminal Justice Information Services [CJIS]: Everything That You Need to Know

Criminal Justice Information Services [CJIS]: Everything That You Need to Know

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Criminal Justice Information Services [CJIS]: Everything That You Need to Know

What is CJIS?

The Criminal Justice Information Services [CJIS] is a division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] that provides a range of essential services for the criminal justice system in the United States [US]. CJIS was established in 1924 & oversees the world’s largest repository of criminal history records, with over 75 million people represented in its database.

In a nutshell, CJIS is responsible for coordinating various nationwide criminal databases & enabling information sharing between federal, state & local law enforcement agencies. This allows police officers, detectives, prosecutors, judges & other officials to access critical data as they perform their duties across the criminal justice system.

Some key facts about CJIS:

  • Headquarters is located in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
  • Employs over two thousand eight hundred (2,800) people .
  • Budget of almost $1 billion USD annually
  • Oversees five (5) major services: National Crime Information Center [NCIC]; Uniform Crime Reporting [UCR] Program; National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS]; Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal [LEEP] & Next Generation Identification [NGI] System

This wide range of databases & services offered by CJIS provide the backbone for tracking crimes, identifying fugitives, performing background checks & more on a national scale.

NCIC: The Central Criminal Database

The National Crime Information Center [NCIC] contains over twenty one (21) million active records in nineteen (19) files or indexes, making it the most widely used system administered by CJIS. Here’s an overview of what NCIC offers:

  • Wanted Persons File: details on fugitives, missing persons or unknown suspects
  • Supervised Release File: people on probation, parole or supervised release
  • Foreign Fugitive File: records on fugitives living abroad or wanted for crimes committed overseas  
  • Identity Theft File: identified victims of identity theft with descriptive & other identifying information
  • Protective Interest Files: details on individuals like victims, witnesses or others needing protection 
  • Unidentified Persons File: unidentified deceased persons/living persons who cannot verify their identities
  • Gang File: gang/terrorist organizations & their members
  • Known or Suspected Terrorist File: data on foreign & domestic terrorists
  • Immigration Violator File: illegal immigrants deported from the U.S.
  • Vehicle File: stolen vehicle/vehicle parts records
  • Vehicle/Boat Part File: serial numbers for stolen vehicle/boat parts
  • License Plate File: data on stolen license plates
  • Gun File: information on stolen, lost or recovered weapons 
  • Article File: records on stolen articles bearing serial numbers
  • Securities File: records on serially-numbered stolen, embezzled, used for ransom or counterfeit securities
  • ORI File: identification data on law enforcement agencies nationwide
  • Missing Person File: details on missing persons, often minors 
  • Foreign Fugitive File: records on fugitives that have fled the United States to avoid prosecution

This central aggregated database assists police & federal agents to identify everything from stolen property to dangerous suspects. All records entered by local, state, federal & tribal criminal justice users are accessible to appropriately authorized law enforcement nationwide.

Uniform Crime Reporting: Tracking Nationwide Crime Data

CJIS also runs the Uniform Crime Reporting [UCR] program which aggregates crime statistics from over eighteen thousand (18,000) city, university/college, county, state, tribal & federal law enforcement agencies. Since 1930, this data has been used to measure crime levels & trends across the country.

The UCR releases an annual Crime in the United States report featuring nationwide data on violent & property crime rates. This includes detailed breakdowns on murder, robbery, burglary & other offenses. It allows criminal justice professionals & the public to:

  • Evaluate crime rates at state & national levels
  • Assess the effectiveness of crime prevention programs 
  • Plan budgets/distribute resources based on crime patterns  
  • Spot emerging trends requiring additional enforcement efforts

Beyond this annual overview, UCR also provides more specialized reporting around cargo theft, human trafficking, hate crimes & law enforcement officers killed/assaulted. All of this data supports criminal justice strategy & operations.

NICS System – Instant Background Checks 

For gun purchases in the United States, CJIS operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS]. Implemented in 1998, the NICS system is used by federal firearms licensees [FFLs] such as retailers to instantly determine whether a buyer is legally prohibited from possessing firearms.

When a sale from a licensed gun dealer is underway, they will submit identifying information about the purchaser via phone or online to the NICS system. This could include the individual’s name, birthdate, gender, race & state of residence. 

NICS will then scan its databases to look for any disqualifying criteria that would prevent the sale. This could include:

  • Felony convictions or indictments
  • Fugitive status  
  • Illegal immigration status
  • Dishonorable military discharge  
  • History of domestic violence  
  • Adjudicated as mental defective/committed to a mental institution

If no records matching these criteria are found, the FFL will receive an instant “Proceed” notification indicating the sale can legally continue. However, if there is a potential restriction, more research may be needed with the gun dealer instructed not to complete the sale before receiving further clearance.

The streamlined NICS system allows determination of legal eligibility in under two (2) minutes while supporting enforcement of current laws prohibiting gun possession by convicted criminals & other dangerous persons.

Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal: Linking Agencies Nationwide

The Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal [LEEP] offered through CJIS provides a singular, secure point of access for law enforcement when searching different criminal justice databases across municipal, state & federal systems. 

LEEP essentially links existing data silos, allowing a detective for instance to seamlessly run queries via a single search portal instead of accessing multiple separate networks. It saves users time while enabling comprehensive access to vital records including:

  • State criminal history registries with mugshots/convictions
  • Corrections & incarceration data
  • Parole/probation statuses   
  • Warrants  
  • Sex offender registries  
  • Fingerprint records 
  • Trace evidence data
  • Drug lab case management
  • Terrorist watchlists
  • Department of Homeland Security [DHS] records

With over hundred thousand (100,000) users spanning all fifty (50) states, LEEP provides the connectivity that police, prosecutors & agents rely on during investigations big & small. It will continue expanding its data partnerships to further unite information critical for public safety but often trapped within individual agency systems.  

Next Generation ID System – Cutting Edge Biometrics

While long focused on aggregating fingerprint records, CJIS is expanding into additional forms of identity verification under its Next Generation Identification [NGI] system. This cutting edge advancement of biometric technology will enhance criminal investigations while helping stop identity theft. 

Key benefits offered by NGI include:

  • Rap Back Service: Continuous criminal monitoring of existing fingerprint records which will automatically alert contributing agencies when any qualifying event such as an arrest occurs. This real-time notification keeps backgrounds current without needing repetitive fingerprinting.  
  • Improved Fingerprint Identification: Better algorithms applied to the growing database can turn partial prints previously impossible to match into investigative leads, helping break open stubborn cases. Files also indicate similarity candidates where no exact record match exists.
  • Facial Recognition: NGI can automate searches to pick a suspect out of a crowd or identify unknown victims/deceased, using only a basic digital photo for comparison across millions of images.
  • Iris & Palm Prints: Recording these details allows definitive ID verification where fingerprints are damaged or unavailable, offering backup methods for confirming identities.
  • Officer Safety Alerts: If information entered about an individual during booking/investigation matches any existing record of assaulting or killing law enforcement, an immediate warning notification is triggered helping protect officer safety.

The operational launch of NGI services like these modernize essential tools for accurately confirming identities & history details in ways never before possible. As CJIS expands its scope into the next generation of criminal justice data support, new breakthroughs will continue improving public safety outcomes nationwide.

CJIS Security & Compliance Standards

With so much sensitive data accessible across different agencies & users, CJIS maintains stringent policies governing information security & proper access controls. While enabling authorized information sharing remains critical for enforcement operations, protecting records from unauthorized access or disclosure is paramount.

Some ways CJIS enforcement security: 

  • All networks, systems & digital repositories tied to CJIS databases must uphold defined security standards via audits & mandatory reporting on compromised records.
  • Any secondary entities like contractors or software vendors indirectly accessing CJIS data must undergo certification ensuring adequate controls are implemented & tested.
  • All direct agency users complete specialized training on appropriate data usage along with reporting processes for security incidents like improper dissemination of records.
  • Stringent disciplinary procedures enforce compliance, violations carry consequences including termination, loss of system privileges & even arrest.

Maintaining public trust in national criminal justice data security & individual privacy remains a central pillar of CJIS operations. As information repositories grow, evolving governance policies & practices will be crucial for balancing authorized information sharing with uncompromising data protections.

The Future of CJIS

While CJIS has enormously progressed from its early 20th century roots aggregating fingerprint records in physical files, much work remains improving technology infrastructure & system interoperability nationwide. 

Some key goals driving development include:

  • Expanding biometric identity services to enhance suspect identification & provide officer safety alerts
  • Developing predictive analytics to enable preemptive analysis of emerging crime patterns rather than just reactive data gathering
  • Improving information sharing with state/local agencies through system integration & expanded access programs
  • Advancing security protocols & audits to match intensifying cyberthreats from hackers & online fraudsters  
  • Increasing participation in voluntary crime reporting programs beyond currently represented agencies   

At its core, CJIS will continue evolving into a centralized yet federated criminal intelligence network at national scale – connecting the dots between the many dispersed datasets, users & technologies driving law enforcement. 

Seamless information flows enabling investigators & officers to pinpoint everything from a stolen car to serial killer will define the future of CJIS. And with crime constantly transforming from street gangs to sophisticated cyberattacks, advanced analytics & unbroken access to complete identity records becomes mandatory.

Though achieving this unified, high-tech future presents a tremendous challenge given the scope of partners & legacy systems involved, gradual progress in modernization matched with sustained funding commitments will ensure CJIS remains the vital backbone supporting public safety nationwide for the next hundred (100) years.


As the largest repository of criminal records worldwide, CJIS provides the scaffolding that connects critical information flows across America’s decentralized justice framework. Its vast caches of data drive enforcement operations while enabling identification & tracking of offenders across multiple states & jurisdictions every single day.

And by upholding rigorous security protocols along with accelerating advances in identity services & predictive analytics, CJIS continuously evolves into an ever-more vital tool for solving crimes & keeping communities safe nationwide.

While complex data integration challenges persist, gradual modernization efforts focused on extending participation, unifying systems & enhancing officer capabilities will ensure CJIS remains unmatched as the definitive support network backbone underpinning law & order across America.

Key Takeaways on CJIS:

  • CJIS enables nationwide information sharing between criminal justice agencies via central databases tracking criminals & crimes.
  • Core services include criminal record repositories like NCIC, crime statistics from UCR, background checks via NICS & biometrics from NGI.  
  • Stringent security & compliance standards protect sensitive records from unauthorized access or disclosure during investigations.
  • Participation from over eighteen thousand (18,000) agencies makes CJIS the world’s largest reference system supporting US law enforcement operations.
  • Future priorities aim to enhance predictive analytics, increase voluntary reporting & integrate systems for unified intelligence.

Frequently Asked Questions About CJIS

Still have some questions about CJIS & how it operates? Here are answers to five (5) common questions on what CJIS does along with data usage/access policies:

What kind of criminal records does CJIS have?

CJIS manages a massive central repository of criminal records including convictions, warrants, fingerprints, mugshots, prison intake/release records & more. Its databases track everything from stolen vehicles to wanted fugitives with detailed profiles searchable by authorized law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Can anyone access my criminal history via CJIS? 

No. CJIS contains highly sensitive data so access is restricted only to approved criminal justice agencies & authorized personnel related to active cases/investigations. All users must pass background checks & complete information security training. 

How does CJIS get its information?

Thousands of local, state & federal agencies voluntarily submit crime reports, fingerprints, court dispositions, incarceration records & other criminal justice documents which are compiled into different CJIS databases like NCIC & NGI.

Is the data in CJIS secure from hacking or leaks?

Extensive security safeguards protect CJIS data from unauthorized access or disclosure. All networks must maintain compliance with FBI encryption, user controls & monitoring standards. Any suspected breach triggers mandatory federal reporting & investigation procedures.  

Can someone find out if they have a criminal record via CJIS?

CJIS databases are exclusively available to law enforcement agencies & personnel based on casework needs. Individuals cannot search their own criminal history directly from CJIS & instead should access records through appropriate state authorities.

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