The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is a computerized database of documented criminal justice information available to virtually every law enforcement agency nationwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The NCIC became operational on January 27, 1967, with the goal of assisting law enforcement in apprehending fugitives and locating stolen property. This goal has since expanded to include locating missing persons and further protecting law enforcement personnel and the public.
The NCIC database consists of 18 files. Seven property files contain records for articles, boats, guns, license plates, securities, vehicles, and vehicle and boat parts. The 11 person files are the Convicted Sexual Offender Registry, Foreign Fugitive, Identity Theft, Immigration Violator, Missing Person, Protection Order, Supervised Release, Unidentified Person, U.S. Secret Service Protective, Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization, and Wanted Person Files. In addition, the database contains images that can be associated with NCIC records to assist agencies in identifying people and property items. The Interstate Identification Index, which contains automated criminal history record information, is also accessible through the same network as the NCIC.
Since its inception, the NCIC has operated under a shared management concept between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and federal criminal justice agencies. The general policy concerning the philosophy, concept, and operational principles of the System is based upon the recommendations of the CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB) to the Director of the FBI. Top administrators from local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies throughout the United States make up the APB.
The FBI maintains the host computer while providing a telecommunication network to the CJIS Systems Agency (CSA) in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Canada, as well as federal criminal justice agencies. A CSA is a criminal justice agency that has overall responsibility for the administration and usage of the NCIC within a district, state, territory, or federal agency. Those agencies generally operate their own computer systems, providing NCIC access to virtually all local criminal justice agencies. Through this cooperative network, law enforcement personnel have direct on-line access to enter or search millions of records for persons and property.
How the NCIC is used
Criminal justice agencies enter records into the NCIC, which are, in turn, accessible to law enforcement agencies nationwide. For example, a law enforcement officer can conduct an inquiry of NCIC during a traffic stop to determine if the vehicle in question is stolen or if the driver is a wanted person, and the NCIC System responds instantly. However, a positive response from the NCIC is not probable cause for an officer to take action. NCIC policy requires the inquiring agency to make contact with the entering agency to verify the information is accurate and up-to-date. Once the record is confirmed, the inquiring agency may take action to arrest a fugitive, return a missing person, charge a subject with violation of a protection order, or recover stolen property.
System Security and Quality Controls
The head of the CSA appoints a CJIS Systems Officer (CSO) from its agency. The CSO is responsible for monitoring system use, enforcing system discipline and security, and assuring that all users follow operating procedures. NCIC policy establishes a number of security measures to ensure the privacy and integrity of the data. The information passing through the network is encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. Each user of the system is authenticated to ensure proper levels of access for every transaction. To further ascertain and verify the accuracy and integrity of the data, each agency must periodically validate its records. Agencies also must undergo periodic audits to ensure data quality and adherence to all security provisions.
See the FBI's NCIC page for additional information.
IMPORTANT: In Massachusetts, exchanges of information with NCIC must go through the CJIS Broker. See the CJIS Resources for Vendors section of this website for additional information.