Justice data systems are very mature and well-established. However, much of this technology has been developed as "stove pipes" or in isolation from other systems. Solutions and standards are available to improve the exchange of data, but the specific business requirements of each stakeholder must be recognized and addressed in order to make these core automated systems function effectively.
One of the more significant automation challenges in interacting with the NCIC Wanted Persons File (WPF) is the limitation that only one active warrant can be entered per individual per agency (ORI). Many law enforcement agencies follow this requirement precisely and only enter one warrant, typically for the most serious offense, per individual. Others have found ways to enter multiple warrants by using the MIS field. The process for entering multiple warrants in this way is explained in this report from Scottsdale, Arizona.
Scottsdale Misdemeanor Arrest Warrant Entry
Pennsylvania's Justice Network (JNET) program has automated this process and can programmatically update the NCIC WPF to manage multiple warrants in the WFS MIS field. This effectively eliminates the need for the manual approach used by other law enforcement agencies.
Pennsylvania Multiple Warrants Case Study
NCIC requires warrant entries to be validated on a periodic basis. This practice is intended to ensure that the warrant has not been quashed or is no longer valid for some other reason. Many states follow this practice for warrants that are maintained within the state and are not forwarded to the FBI. This requirement to validate in-state only warrants inhibits many law enforcement agencies from entering warrants for lesser offenses. This practice results in the loss of situational awareness by law enforcement because many warrants are never shared with other law enforcement agencies within the state.
To address this issue, some states have "relaxed" the NCIC requirements to encourage entry of all warrants as long as they are not going to be forwarded to NCIC. One of there requirements is to periodically validate warrants. This practice is premised on the implementation of an automated exchange between courts and law enforcement when a warrant is issued and when a warrant is served, quashed, or invalidated for some other reason. In this scenario, the court is considered the issuing agency (ORI) and is responsible for the entry and removal of warrants. Since courts are the authoritative source and systems are in place to reliably automate these processes, periodic validation is no longer required. Colorado is one example of a state that follows this process.
Colorado eWarrant System Profile
Another operational requirement of NCIC is to specify extradition limits. Extradition limits define the bounds or limits that the state will follow to extradite an individual with an outstanding warrant. NCIC extradition limits include boundaries such as nationally and border states only and inform an arresting agency in another state if the issuing state is willing to extradite the individual and return them to the originating state for further prosecution. This NCIC requirement further filters the number of warrants entered into NCIC, further reducing situational awareness. Many states have adopted similar rules for limits on in-state transportation. Where an agency has no intention to transport an offender, the agency frequently does not enter the warrant into the state wanted person system. This practice further erodes situational awareness for law enforcement, contrary to one of the guiding principles for warrant management - to improve situation awareness.
Before a warrant is executed and the individual is detained, the contacting agency must confirm with the agency that entered the warrant that the warrant is still valid. This NCIC policy and practice is followed for in-state only warrants as well. In a paper-based world, warrants are issued by the court on paper and forwarded to a law enforcement agency (referred to as the "Owning" agency) for entry into the state and federal wanted persons systems. With no reliable automated data exchange between the court and the owning agency, all warrants must be confirmed as being valid by the owning agency before the contacting agency will execute the warrant and detain the subject.
Automating the exchange of warrant data between courts and law enforcement significantly increases the reliability of warrants in the wanted persons system making confirmation unnecessary. If the warrant is reliably entered and removed through automated data exchanges between the court and law enforcement then the warrant is valid in the wanted persons system and need not be manually confirmed.
As the ultimate authority for authorizing and cancelling warrants, courts are directly affected by the operational practices of law enforcement and their wanted persons or warrant management systems. The policies established by law enforcement and implemented in their systems directly affect the courts. For example, extradition and transporation limits, if handled informally at the local lw enforcement level, undermine the court's authority because a limitation on execution makes the warrant unenforceable in certain situations. This makes perfect sense when law enforcement declines to transport an offender detained on a traffic infraction from a location hundreds of miles away (the cost is, of course, prohibitive). But policies implemented by state and local law enforcement must be developed in collaboration with the courts.