New York State Standard Practices for Processing Fingerprintable Criminal Cases
NEW YORK STATE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES
OFFICE OF JUSTICE INFORMATION SERVICES
Four Tower Place
Albany NY 12203-3702
DCJS Customer Contact Center: 518-457-5837 or 1-800-262-3257
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Criminal Justice Record Improvement Activities
The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) has been engaged in a comprehensive, long-term project aimed at improving its criminal history records. The process began with an assessment of the processing of case information in local and state criminal justice agencies. This project was intended to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the processes that affect the flow of information through the system and the impact that the processes have on the criminal history database. The effort has been supported by Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Formula Grant funds, awarded to the Division by the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
The first phase of DCJS activity under the grant culminated in the "Interim Plan for Improving the Data Quality of Criminal Justice Record Information," issued in January, 1993. This plan called for a comprehensive assessment of the quality of criminal history records in New York State (NYS) by providing a preliminary review of the strengths and weaknesses of criminal history records systems and recommending BJA grant projects to address identified problem areas. The assessment activities and projects that arose from the assessment are described in detail in the "Criminal Justice Record Improvement Plan - Part II," issued in December 1994. Those activities and projects are summarized below.
Assessment of State and Local Criminal Justice Agencies
A variety of analyses involving state and local criminal justice agencies were carried out to pinpoint the key problem areas in the system and identify projects to address them. Analyses conducted included:
• Field visits to the principle criminal justice agencies in five counties to review the processing of criminal history information;
• Walkthroughs of operations at DCJS, which serves as the State Criminal Record Repository, and other major State criminal justice agencies to review the handling of criminal history data;
• A review of New York State's criminal history reporting requirements by a subcommittee of a Data Quality Task Force which was established under the grant to determine the need for further legislative mandates;
• Selected statistical analyses related to the DCJS receipt and processing of arrests, local correction admissions and dispositions; and
• A survey to gauge the perceptions of state and local users regarding the completeness, accuracy, timeliness and utility of the DCJS Criminal History Report (rapsheet).
Projects Proposed to Address Problems Identified During Assessment
The results of the assessment were presented in the "Criminal Justice Records Improvement Plan," issued in December 1994. This report indicated a need for the establishment and promulgation of standard practices and procedures for the collection, processing, transfer and reporting of criminal history information. It was demonstrated that data quality suffers when agencies follow disparate practices or fail to collect, transfer or report information needed to provide accurate and complete criminal history information in a timely manner.
A number of initiatives were proposed to address the problems identified during the assessment including projects covering the following categories:
• Improving and standardizing current processing policies and procedures, as well as developing additional polices and procedures;
• Promoting electronic data sharing; and
• Enhancing existing information systems.
The practices presented in this manual are the result of a collaborative effort on the part of the entire criminal justice community. The development of procedures and standards would not have been possible without the cooperation of state and local criminal justice agencies in support of these efforts. A Steering Committee was formed and three functional area subcommittees (arrest processing, prosecution and judicial processing, and custodial/supervision processing) met monthly from 1997 to 1999 to address the problems and develop procedures and standards. This manual is a direct result of those efforts. A list of members on the Steering Committee and the subcommittees can be found in Appendix A.
Standard Practices Project
Why Standard Practices?
Past studies of the New York State criminal justice system have underscored the poor fit between the process and structure of criminal justice as a key obstacle to system coordination and integration. While criminal justice is a single process that begins with an arrest and ends with release from custody or supervision, the system's administrative structure is decidedly decentralized. Over 3,000 criminal justice agencies operating at the State, County, City, District, Town and Village levels of government are responsible for the administration of justice. A number of developments have evolved within this complex structure that negatively impact data quality.
Of particular concern is the dearth of standardization in the practices governing the processing of criminal cases among criminal justice agencies throughout the state. These practices vary widely, particularly in the communication of case-related information among agencies. Agencies have a need for case-related data from other agencies which often go unfilled due to a lack of awareness by one or more of the parties. Furthermore, a number of contributing criminal justice agencies are not fully informed or aware of requirements and policies regarding reporting information to the repository. This situation can be partly attributed to the absence of a comprehensive set of standard practices to guide criminal history processing.
Examples of the need for standardization in the processing of criminal history information include the following:
• There are widely varying practices employed in the submission of arrest fingerprints to the repository and in the drawing up of accusatory instruments. This diversity places constraints on the compilation of complete and accurate criminal histories at the repository and is a major factor behind the disparate sealing practices found throughout the system.
Criminal histories are made up of separate arrest events. Each arrest event is based upon submission of arrest fingerprints. Each event should also, ultimately, contain the disposition of the charges connected with the arrest. However, the many variations in the recording, processing and reporting of criminal cases by the agencies involved contribute to a range of problems, including the following:
- There is no consistency in the submission of fingerprints by arresting agencies. Some submit separate prints for each incident covered by the arrest, while others will combine the charges from several incidents on a single set of prints. There are even some agencies submitting separate prints for each charge involved in an incident. In cases involving multiple arresting agencies, each agency may submit fingerprints reporting the same arrest.
- Similarly, there are no standards for the development of the accusatory instrument upon which prosecution is based. The instrument may include every incident connected with an arrest or a separate instrument may be drawn up for each incident. Superior Court indictments may include the charges from several arrests.
• Some police agencies delay fingerprinting for appearance tickets until after arraignment. This increases the likelihood that fingerprinting will not be completed and, therefore, the arrest will not be recorded on the criminal history database at the repository. In those situations, the court does not have a NYSID Number or Criminal Justice Tracking Number (CJTN), previously known as Court Control Number, to report with the disposition of the case. The repository is then unable to identify the criminal history to which the disposition is to be updated. Even if the arrest is subsequently updated, it may remain open on the criminal history.
• Key case identifiers, such as NYSID Number, Criminal Justice Tracking Number (CJTN), previously known as Court Control Number, and Arrest Date are not always passed from agency to agency. For example, upper courts frequently do not receive these identifiers from the district attorney or the transferring lower courts. The identifiers are essential to adequately report a disposition to the repository. Without such information, it becomes more difficult to link the case to an arrest event on an individual's criminal history.
• District attorney offices play a key role in moving criminal cases toward completion. However, in most counties no formal mechanism exists for the district attorney offices to report to the courts information on actions taken by the prosecution that impact court disposition reporting to the repository. This impairs the ability of the court to report a final disposition to the repository for those cases. Examples of such actions include the following:
- District attorneys may decline prosecution of cases without notifying the courts or the repository.
- District attorneys may defer prosecution while awaiting the availability of evidence or witnesses and then fail to proceed as there are generally no procedures within the district attorney offices for tracking deferred cases.
- District attorneys may agree to plea bargains in which other cases, pending in several other courts, involving the defendant are to be covered by the plea but then fail to inform the courts that those other cases are being disposed.
- District attorneys may decide to consolidate charges from several separate cases into a single case. District attorney offices vary widely in how much information is disseminated to the courts about case consolidations.
Because agencies are frequently unaware of the importance of capturing, recording, reporting and transmitting key case identifiers to ensure that criminal history reports accurately reflect an individual's criminal history, key pieces of information critical to identifying a particular case are often missing. The absence of this information affects each agency as a case progresses through the system in different ways.
• The impact upon the criminal history database at the repository is significant. Dispositions reported to the repository by the courts can only be accurately updated to the proper criminal history when accompanied by the data that enables a linkage with the originating arrest. Without those key elements, dispositions cannot be processed. Cases remain open on the criminal history reports and their outcomes are unavailable to the criminal justice community in subsequent cases involving the individual. The same is true for records received from correctional facilities, probation departments and the Division of Parole.
• Agencies must spend a great deal of time tracking down missing details or must conduct their business without the benefit of vital information. DCJS is unable to provide probation with notice of subsequent arrests for individuals on probation. Courts must make decisions regarding bail and the release of defendants without complete knowledge of the individuals' pior history. Probation officers must contact courts, district attorneys and police agencies for missing information while completing pre-sentence reports. Corrections staff must conduct similar investigations when classifying inmates for admission. The courts and police agencies must respond to repeated requests for this same information.
• The potential impact that the lack of complete and accurate criminal histories can have on individuals is considerable. Applications for adoptions, employment and various licenses may be rejected because prior arrests have not been sealed after favorable disposition.
Attempting to tie all of these pieces together into a cohesive criminal history at the repository is a daunting task when there is no consistency in the development and processing of cases and their charges. Among other issues, there are problems in linking documentation from various agencies together, in determining when an arrest has been completely disposed and in performing statistical analysis. This situation becomes particularly problematic in sealing criminal records.
There is a need for the establishment and promulgation of standard practices and procedures for the collection, processing, transfer and reporting of criminal history information. Data quality suffers because agencies follow disparate practices or fail to collect, transfer or report information needed to provide accurate and complete criminal history information in a timely manner. The establishment of standard practices, training and monitoring of compliance are the initial steps to be taken to improve criminal history information.
Development of the Manual
The "New York State Standard Practices Manual for Processing Fingerprintable Criminal Cases" was written to provide documentation on the procedures and standards identified by the subcommittees as necessary to the efficient and accurate exchange and reporting of fingerprintable criminal case information in New York State for the following areas:
• Arrest Processing
• Prosecutorial Processing
• Judicial Processing
• Custody and Supervision Processing
The dissemination of the manual and use of the procedures and standards found within form a critical step toward establishing a foundation for the improvement of criminal history data quality in New York State. Though an important step, it is only the first phase of a criminal history data quality improvement process which should involve an ongoing cycle of training, monitoring and updating of standards.
Other projects related to this theme of standard practices include:
• Expanding the mechanism for prosecutor reporting
• Reevaluating processing policies and procedures at DCJS
• Identifying projects to improve the quality and productivity of the entire criminal history processing system
Key identifiers are data elements which are essential to the accurate updating of information to a DCJS Criminal History Record. The key identifiers are used to associate information first to a criminal history and then to a particular arrest on that criminal history. Without the use of key identifiers a rapsheet may contain portions of a case which do not associate to any particular arrest or will not contain vital information related to a particular criminal history. The key identifiers which each agency should use and share with other agencies are the following:
• Name of the individual
• Arrest Date
• NYSID Number assigned to the individual's New York State criminal history
• Criminal Justice Tracking Number (CJTN) - the number assigned to or pre-printed on a particular set of Arrest Fingerprints, which is used to identify the particular arrest on the individual's New York State criminal history. The number was formerly known as the Court Control Number, OBTS Number or 501 Number.
• Date of Birth of the individual
• Case Number, as appropriate (i.e., Arrest ID Number, Court Case Number, Inmate ID Number, Parole ID Number, Probation Registrant Number), used to identify each reporting agency's identification number for the individual
• Gender of the individual
• Crime Date
• Crime Place
• FBI Number used to identify the individual's federal record.