McGrath: State First to Use National Fingerprint Database
HELENA – Attorney General Mike McGrath said Thursday that Montana recently became the first state in the nation to operate the National Fingerprint File database. The NFF allows states to maintain their own fingerprint records while still sharing criminal justice information with federal and state law enforcement officials around the country.
Prior to Sept. 1, Montana sent a duplicate fingerprint record to the FBI for each felony arrest made in the state. The state and the FBI each maintained fingerprint records. In some cases, federal records were incomplete due to missing court judgments, data entry errors or missing arrest charges.
With the NFF, the state updates its own records and is not required to forward duplicates to the FBI. At the same time, the state continues to share information with federal and state law enforcement officials around the country.
“It’s never been more important for federal, state and local law enforcement officials to have speedy access to accurate criminal justice information,” McGrath said. “The NFF means states can maintain their own records and be confident the information being used around the nation is up to date.”
Here’s how the system works. When a law enforcement officer in another state arrests and fingerprints someone and submits those prints to the FBI, if the person has a criminal record in Montana, the FBI will notify Montana. The state then sends a criminal history record directly to the requesting law enforcement agency.
“The FBI congratulates Montana as it continues to lead states toward decentralization and improves information sharing,” said Michael Kirkpatrick of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division. “This concept is instrumental in a cooperative state-federal relationship.
“It contributes both to law enforcement and the public good.”
Karen Nelson, chief of the state’s Criminal Justice Information Services Bureau, said that later this fall Montana is scheduled to begin electronic fingerprinting and eliminate use of paper fingerprint cards. She said the electronic conversion should reduce waiting time for background checks and fingerprints from days to just hours.