Thomas R. Temin
Folks sometimes complain that newspapers don't print good news. Well, editors like good news, too, and many government success stories have made the pages of GCN lately.
High on the success list is the FBI. After years of struggle and
cost overruns, the bureau last month brought two systems online that initially are working well.
The bureau switched on the National Crime Information Center 2000 network and the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The agency also has had early success with its Combined DNA Index System, which became operational late last year.
But the long-term prosperity of CODIS, IAFIS and NCIC 2000 will depend on their acceptance by state and local law enforcement agencies. Although the FBI has its own caseload, the real value of these systems stems from the data they house'in volume and in quality.
The bulk of fingerprint, DNA, crime scene and other data will come'as it always has'not from the FBI but from law enforcement officers beyond Washington's city limits who handle millions of arrests and investigations each year.
To encourage widespread use of its records systems, the FBI enlisted help from local officers when it embarked on the IAFIS effort in the early 1990s. The initial work revolved around establishing national standards for fingerprinting. FBI agents and state and local law officers worked together to develop standards that are technically robust but easy to adopt.
Setting standards for capturing and transmitting fingerprint images is complex. Plus, the law agencies had to do it against a backdrop of incompatible systems and government entities that often don't cotton to standards handed down from Washington. IAFIS, therefore, represents both a technical and cultural breakthrough.
Even so, the criminal justice field remains marked by vast areas of intergovernmental incompatibility.
Future nationwide efforts are more likely to be the result of grassroots systems initiatives rather than federal initiatives. Nevertheless, law enforcement agencies at all levels would be wise to build on the lessons learned during the development of CODIS, IAFIS and NCIC 2000.Thomas R. Temin