By Dr. Dena Weiss, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
When a violent crime is committed by a member of the armed forces, the federal government requires that the convicted perpetrator’s fingerprints be submitted to the FBI in a timely manner. The Department of Justice refers to this requirement as the “Final Disposition Report.” However, multiple reports have found that military branches continue to fail to submit fingerprint data to the necessary government agencies, jeopardizing public safety.
In 2015, the Department of Defense (DoD) conducted a report involving the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and found 30 percent of these fingerprint cards were not submitted as required. This happened despite warnings in 1997 that compliance needed to be improved upon after a DoD report revealed that the Army and Navy failed to submit fingerprint cards more than 80 percent of the time.
With the advent and availability of digital technology, this submission procedure should be both seamless and expedient if proper training and protocol is followed.
The Advent of Automated Fingerprint Systems
Prior to the 1980s, the FBI relied on manual comparisons of inked fingerprint cards to determine whether an arrested individual had committed a previous crime, or to identify an unknown fingerprint from a crime scene to a set of known prints from an individual. This was a time-consuming and labor-intensive manual process.
Criminal investigations reached a milestone with the creation of an automated process of storing and identifying fingerprints. The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is a fingerprint database that uses digital imaging technology to scan, store, and analyze tenprint files of individuals as well as latent prints. The latent prints originate from criminal scenes as well as missing person investigations.
Problems with Interoperability
Although it was beneficial for each state to have an AFIS system, none of these disparate systems could talk to each other, which limited law enforcement’s ability to identify suspects from other states. For example, a latent print from a crime scene in Florida could be entered into an AFIS system, but if the suspect had only previously been arrested in Alabama, the Florida system would not be able to identify the latent print.
To address this problem, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) was established in 1999. The purpose of this system was to merge local, state, and federal fingerprint records allowing for inter-jurisdictional and international cooperation 24 hours a day.
As of 2000, federal employees became part of the searchable database as well as enlisted military personnel. The system was renamed the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system and included advancements such as the Iris Pilot in 2013 and a limited facial recognition search program.
The NGI database capabilities include:
- Improved fingerprint similarity matching and faster response times
- Interstate Photo System (IPS) consisting of facial photographs as well as scars and tattoos
- Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC) in 2011
- A National Palm Print System (NPPS) in 2013
And most recently, in June 2018, the FBI expanded the database to include more than 60 million civilian fingerprints and 75 million criminal fingerprints. In addition, there are more than 800,000 latent prints in the database awaiting identification.
Why Does the Military Continue Failing to Report Criminal Histories?
The government established regulations to include military personnel with violent backgrounds in an effort to prevent these trained individuals from purchasing weapons. However, by failing to comply with these regulations, the armed services are jeopardizing public safety.
For example, Devin Patrick Kelley walked into a Texas church on November 5, 2017 and murdered 26 innocent people. Kelley had been court martialed in 2012 and discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for violently assaulting his family. Days after his deadly shooting spree, it was discovered that the Air Force never reported Kelley’s prior criminal history to the FBI.
Improvements in Reporting?
Military branches have made nominal improvements in addressing this problem. The most recent report conducted in 2017 resulted in the following percentages of missing fingerprint cards:
- Army (28%)
- Navy (29%)
- Marine Corps (29%)
- Air Force (14%)
While this is a slight improvement, much more needs to be done to ensure no military members convicted of violent crimes slip through the cracks. Ultimately, the system is only beneficial if the military and law enforcement agencies continue to submit criminal information of offenders in an ongoing, expedient, and consistent manner.
About the Author: Dr. Dena Weiss is an assistant professor at American Military University, teaching courses in criminal justice and forensic science. She has been a crime scene investigator for more than 20 years and is currently a fingerprint expert for a central Florida police department. Prior to that position, she was a serologist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Her court experience includes testifying in more than 200 federal and circuit court cases in over 15 Florida counties. Dena has a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Sociology, a master’s degree in Forensic Science from Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a Ph.D. in Business Administration with an emphasis in Criminal Justice.
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