Texas Shooter: Number of Accurate

Criminal Records Is Staggeringly Low

I can’t watch crime-related television shows. They offer endless examples of computerization where an investigator (with endless time) almost instantly discovers data on the most intricate of details about a suspect’s life. The findings are never wrong; they are never incomplete.

The portrayal of accurate records is often fiction.

This article addresses the national database designed to vet gun buyers but continues the conversation as it applies to warrants. The justice system is seriously challenged when it comes to data entry and accuracy.

Texas Shooter

Washington Post: The Air Force failed to alert federal law enforcement about Devin Kelley’s violent past, enabling the former service member, who killed 26 churchgoers Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Tx., to obtain firearms, reports the Washington Post.

Kelley should have been barred from purchasing firearms and body armor because of his domestic violence conviction in 2014 Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Kelley was sentenced to a year in prison and expelled from the military with a bad conduct discharge after two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and a child.

“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have directed an investigation of Kelley’s case and “relevant policies and procedures,” she said. Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal: Critics of the national database designed to vet gun buyer’s charge that the U.S. military routinely neglects to populate it with court-martial records, as required by law, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Air Force admitted it had failed to submit the records of Devin Kelley, who killed 26 people in a Texas church on Sunday, to the FBI after a 2012 court-martial conviction for domestic assault. The lapse seems to explain why Kelley passed background checks and was allowed to buy guns.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn (TX) said he is working on legislation to get more federal agencies, to upload criminal-conviction records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Those records are required, but can slip through the cracks.

“According to the Department of Justice, the number of these records that are actually uploaded is staggeringly low,” Cornyn said. “That is unacceptable and it must change.”

National Crime Information Center

But the issue doesn’t stop with the system to forestall illegal gun purchases. National databases, specifically the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, NCIC, depend on tens of thousands of state and local criminal justice agencies to enter information on a timely basis and to update that data when warranted. NCIC contains 21 files of wanted persons, stolen items, parole and probation records and much more. It includes the system to stop illegal gun purchases.

Even the FBI acknowledges that its NCIC database is limited, noting that it contains only about 50 to 55 percent of all available criminal records, along with information taken from fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service.

The primary reason the NCIC is missing so many records is that it is the responsibility of multiple primary sources—like the thousands of municipal, county and federal courts throughout the country—to enter, modify, and remove their own information, The Hill.

This Isn’t Unusual

Throughout my career in the criminal justice system, I encountered many times where someone didn’t enter a warrant, or the warrant went unserved, or records were either wrong or incomplete.

I handled the publicity for the US Marshal’s Service Fugitive Safe Surrender program in Washington, D.C., and the number of unserved warrants appalled me. I was told that tens of thousands of warrants were incomplete, obsolete or went unserved.

When The Maryland Department of Public Safety (I was the Director of Public Information) took over the Baltimore City Jail and started processing fingerprints through computers, we matched so many felons to fingerprints left behind at unsolved crimes and unserved warrants that it almost broke our system.

The criminal justice system is (and probably will always be) undermanned and underfunded when it comes to record keeping.

Unserved Warrants

There are endless numbers of unserved warrants in the US.

From the US Marshall’s Office Fugitive Safe Surrender’s Program: Tens of thousands of fugitives are present in every major city across America. Many are wanted for violent crimes, but authorities target far more for lower-level, non-violent felonies ranging from drug possession to theft. US Marshals.

“You can’t walk down the street today without passing somebody who is wanted,” said William Bonk, a U.S. Marshals Service agent who formerly headed the D.C. Joint Fugitive Task Force of local and federal law enforcement agencies, Washington Post.

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which police use for background checks on suspects, there are more than 789,000 outstanding warrants for felonies and serious misdemeanors filed in their system, but the actual number of warrants in the United States is actually much higher.

In California alone, there are 252,000 outstanding felony warrants, according to the office of the state attorney general. Of these warrants, approximately 2,800 are for homicide, 640 are for kidnapping, and 1,800 are for sexual assault suspects.

In Florida, the total number of outstanding warrants, both felony and misdemeanor, is 325,000, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. There are 898 homicide warrants, 273 kidnapping warrants and 565 sexual assault warrants outstanding, ABC News.

Warrants Not Entered

A large percentage of outstanding warrants are never entered by states because they are not required to file their warrants into the FBI’s national system.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America that the FBI’s national system is helpful to law enforcement officials around the country, despite its shortcomings.

“There are some lags and some deficiencies in getting all the state information in,” Ashcroft said. “But most of those warrants we’re talking about are state warrants — when a law enforcement person detains a person, arrests them, pulls them over, they can find out whether they’re wanted on a warrant in some other area.”

A suspect with an outstanding warrant can often go without being apprehended by authorities until the suspect has done something to bring attention to himself. If a suspect is in the national system, any outstanding warrants will show up during a routine check during a traffic stop — even if it’s across the country from where the warrant was issued.

If the suspect is not in the system, the warrant might not be discovered. Ashcroft says the federal government encourages states to share their information.

“It’s important for us to get more names, more information, and we’ll do that,” he said. “We’re encouraging that all the time,” ABC News.


America’s criminal justice system has immense challenges. Most crimes are not reported, most reported crimes do not end in an arrest; significant numbers of arrests are not prosecuted. Most felonies do not get prison time, Crime in America.

Tens of thousands of warrants are not entered into state and national systems and when they are, huge numbers are never served.

Tens of thousands of criminal histories are not entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to stop illegal gun purchases.

Tens of thousands of criminal histories are either wrong or incomplete.

Some suggest that the number of inaccurate criminal records is in the millions.

But when the record keeping systems depend on 19,000 law enforcement agencies plus thousands of additional criminal justice organizations to provide accurate and complete data, and to consistently update that information in a timely fashion, it’s rather easy to see how an underfunded and undermanned system would find it difficult to accomplish.

Devin Kelley’s violent past went undocumented. He’s not the only one.


One newspaper excerpt was taken from The Crime Report.

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.