Wanted and Arrested Person Records

Wanted and Arrested Person Records

Mark Huguley

When a firearms dealer screened a prospective gun customer through a point-of-contact state for the National Instant Check System (NICS) for any criminal history that would preclude the buyer from purchasing the weapon, the inquiry found the individual wanted on criminal charges. When law enforcement agents responded to arrest her, she acted surprised and when asked if she knew of the outstanding warrants, she replied “Yes, but I have been in jail three times, and no one ever mentioned it!”

Although in the end law enforcement officers finally captured this woman, better use of records probably would have resulted in an earlier arrest and may have prevented subsequent offenses. Information management plays a key part to successful policing. If managed and used properly, arrest and wanted person records can provide officers significant assistance in the resolution of crime and apprehension of offenders.


Recently, members of the Southern Working Group for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) advisory process met to discuss advances in law enforcement information systems. One major issue concerned all members in attendance–how to get agencies to enter wanted persons into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). [1] This problem goes beyond just the issue of entering persons into NCIC; it resonates to include fingerprinting and conducting wanted person checks on recently arrested individuals. In fact, the issue applies to all basic processes associated with managing information about individuals sought for arrest, as well as those recently arrested.

While the working group attempts to establish integrated justice data systems, develop new biometric identification techniques, and use other new information technologies in law enforcement, the police and other criminal justice practitioners must focus on three essential procedures. Following these basic steps in managing information about wanted and arrested subjects can help officers expedite the identification and apprehension of criminals.

Fingerprinting All Full-Custody Arrests

Most citizens believe that when police arrest them they get fingerprinted. Although this generally happens, for various reasons, some officers do not always fingerprint everyone they arrest. Police managers should ensure that the fingerprints of every person subjected to a full-custody arrest are submitted to a state identification bureau or central records repository. The state bureau and the FBI CJIS Division will use the fingerprints to establish a criminal history and identification record on that individual. Criminal history record information, supported by fingerprints, will allow positive identification in both criminal and civil investigations. Fingerprints permit the most accurate and reliable searches of criminal records. Oftentimes, the use of fingerprints may determine whether law enforcement can identify a subject.

Although police agencies can have a well-managed records office, occasionally, some agencies do not fingerprint until obtaining a disposition for pending charges on an individual. Because the FBI and the state record repositories encourage accuracy and completeness in all record keeping, an officer in charge may have concerns about furnishing incomplete records. However, a complete record often results as the product of more than one submission. Most criminal history repositories manage the disposition as a distinct record, or segment, linked to the arrest. If an agency does not submit fingerprints promptly following an arrest, any need to identify the subject during the interval between arrest and disposition may go unmet. Sometimes, an agency may experience a high volume of arrests and simply may allow some subjects to skip the fingerprinting step, but this occurs at a high cost. If many departments follow this practice, the cumulative impact will result in large numbers of arrested persons either without t imely and accurate criminal records or no records at all.

As a result, some states have passed laws that require the fingerprinting of all persons charged with crimes. Because persons charged through the use of an arrest summons often are exempt from such requirements, departments generally cite and release those individuals. Researchers at SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, surveyed state criminal history record systems and found that 28 states have laws that require local jails not only to fingerprint all admitted prisoners but to send the fingerprint to the state repository. [2]

The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (LAFIS) initiative of the FBI promises radical improvement in the processing of fingerprints Under the IAFIS concept of operations, booking agencies electronically submit fingerprints of arrest subjects to the appropriate state identification bureau (SIB). The SIB then searches its Automated Fingerprint Identification System database for a match. If the SIB cannot positively identify the fingerprints, they automatically electronically forward them to the FBI’s CJIS Division for a further search.

In 1973, Congress amended the Omnibus Crime and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to require, in part, that states and local agencies ensure the completeness of the criminal history record information in their state repositories. Because dispositions for arrest charges remain essential for so many purposes, ranging from employment matters to firearm purchaser screening, it remains paramount that agencies create the arrest record first. Currently, fingerprints remain the best, and often only accepted, way to establish records that law enforcement can use to match conclusively with an unknown or questioned subject.

Those states that have ratified the Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact are mandated to use fingerprints to facilitate the interstate exchange of criminal history record information for noncriminal justice purposes. By 1997, 52 states or U.S. territories adopted data quality requirements that govern their criminal records. [3]

Entering Wanted Persons into NCIC

Placing names and identifying demographic data into NCIC will facilitate rapid service of arrest warrants and improve officer safety. Due to the heavy workload from combining the requirements for auditing and validating records, as well as confirming “hits,” some agencies simply do not promptly enter persons wanted for minor violations and only enter those persons wanted for more serious crimes. However, because wanted persons do not know whether police have entered them into NCIC, they often may assume that police have stopped them because of their wanted status versus a minor traffic violation. This can result in unexpected actions by the individual (e.g., fight or flight) and may catch the officer off guard.

For their own safety, police must consider that individuals wanted for minor charges may resist arrest as often as those individuals with felonies. Therefore, it remains vital that the police can determine whether a person is wanted on any charge, no matter how serious the crime.

Because officers often know their subjects and expect to find them within a few days, they frequently place warrants over the visor in their patrol car, or in other convenient places, for easy retrieval. Unfortunately, during the interim, other officers in the same or another jurisdiction may have contact with the individual without even realizing that the individual has outstanding wants or warrants. Another department may have even jailed and released the individual because the officer either did not enter the individual into NCIC or did not enter the record in a timely manner.

Although NCIC mandates agencies to enter wanted records in a timely manner, some agencies do not enter or complete all wanted person entries. Although it remains true that every entry requires maintenance and action to remove it upon capture of the suspect, not promptly or thoroughly completing entries can result in costly mistakes.

To help ensure officer safety, managers should encourage their officers to “pack the record” when entering wanted persons in NCIC. By entering all available nonmandatory data, particularly vehicle information, officers can help make the NCIC record even more useful in locating wanted persons.

Checking Arrested Persons

Similar to the example of the firearm purchaser at the beginning of this article; some wanted person serve time in jail for a minor offense and get released without the discovery of their wanted status in another jurisdiction for a more serious crime. In most cases, a simple name search through the FBI’s NCIC Wanted Person File will determine whether an individual is wanted. [4] Because criminals often use altered or false identification, fingerprints remain the best means to accurately identify subjects and deter mine whether they are wanted.

NCIC’s “hit” confirmation procedures ensure rapid verification of an individual’s wanted status. Within 10 minutes of the inquiry, the agency that entered the wanted person record must confirm to an inquiring agency if the subject is still wanted. Wanted person records remain in NCIC until the entering agency removes them.

To maximize the capability for conclusive identification, numerous states are working to implement the FBI IAFIS initiative that will allow rapid nationwide fingerprint-supported identification of subjects on record. IAFIS provides a 2-hour turnaround time for electronically submitted criminal prints, which potentially can result in positive identifications in criminal cases. [5]


Various users have an ever-increasing demand for access to criminal justice information for a variety of reasons. Criminal justice practitioners should have immediate access to all of the information necessary to make informed quality decisions and to help ensure the safety of the officers involved. While certain procedures for fingerprinting, entering wanted records, and checking wanted status remain at the core of law enforcement information management, officers must remember the importance of the information each user provides and the impact it can have on other individuals or activities.

Good information management in law enforcement is more than mere record keeping, it provides tools for solving cases and preventing crime. Such information systems remain vital to continue progress in reducing crime rates, to aid in the effective administration of justice, and, ultimately, to help officers protect the communities they serve.

Major Huguley serves with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division in Columbia, South Caroilna.


(1.) For more information on the NCIC, see Stephanie L. Hitt, “NCIC 2000,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 2000, 12-15.

(2.) U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 1999 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, NCJ 184793, October 2000), table 10, 33.

(3.) U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Compendium of State Privacy and Security Legislation: 1999 Overview, by SEARCH (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, NCJ 182294, July 2000), 5.

(4.) A Wanted Person File inquiry also will cause an automatic crosssearch of the Foreign Fugitive, Missing Person, Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization, Protection Order, Deported Felon, Convicted Sexual Offender Registry, Convicted Persons on Supervised Release, and U.S. Secret Service Protective Files.

(5.) U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Time CJIS Link (Clarksburg, West Virginia, fall 2000), 8.

(6.) Supra note 3, 9.

An IAFIS Success Story

In Massachusetts, the Police charged an 18year-old male with trespassing, underage drinking, and drinking in public. Based on these offenses, his release was imminent. However, using the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), law enforcement officers learned of wanted charges for a drug-related murder of another 18-year-old in Greenville, South Carolina. This case shows how IAFIS can raise the capacity of the police to identify wanted persons to the next generation of crime fighting. [6]

Entering Wanted Person Records

NCIC records for wanted persons must include the FBI-assigned originating agency identifier; the subject’s name, sex, race, height, weight, hair color, offense, and warrant date; and the agency case number. In addition, agencies must enter at least one numeric identifier with the record, such as the subject’s date of birth, FBI number, vehicle operator license number, or social security number. Based on this information alone, investigators generally can make a tentative identification of an individual, although fingerprint comparison remains more reliable and can provide the basis for a more conclusive result.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Federal Bureau of Investigation

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group