FBI to link 17 criminal databases

State and local law enforcement officials soon will be able to transmit fingerprint data from squad cars and gain access to mug shots and other data as the FBI rolls out a computer system that will link 17 databases on criminals and their activities.

The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) 2000, developed by Harris Corp., comes to life this month after nearly a decade of planning and development. Like the original NCIC, which had been operating since 1967, the new system enables law enforcement agents across the nation to search databases when investigating crimes or questioning criminal suspects. The databases include information on stolen guns, deported felons, missing persons, stolen vehicles and other crime-related information.

In addition to the existing NCIC functions, the new system will equip squad cars with special hardware and software so that law enforcement agents can transmit suspects' fingerprints to confirm their identity and to see if they are wanted for other crimes. The equipment also will enable officials to view mug shots to confirm identities -- a capability the old NCIC did not have.

"Having complete information and having it quickly is a key to administering justice," said Gary Cooper, executive director of SEARCH Group Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on justice information. "NCIC allows you to get more information and get it quickly."

Although NCIC 2000 has been completed, challenges remain. For example, state and local police still need electronic fingerprint scanners and other computer equipment to compare a suspect's fingerprint or face with a fingerprint or a mug shot stored in NCIC 2000.

"To take advantage of the system, the locals are going to have to have the technologies in place," SEARCH's Cooper said. "The locals and the states have to find the resources."

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