e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 11: Public Safety and Corrections

Ensure the Reliability
of the Criminal Justice
Information System


Criminal history records are an important public safety tool used both by the criminal justice system and by those monitoring employment at schools, day care centers, and nursing homes. The Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council should increase its responsibility for the Computerized Criminal History database to ensure that the state’s criminal history records are accurate and complete.


Accurate and complete criminal history records are crucial to effective criminal justice. In addition, such records are increasingly used to screen individuals prior to public or private employment in sensitive positions (at schools, day cares, and nursing homes) or for the purchase of firearms.

The 1989 Legislature required the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to create the Texas Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). This system, in turn, consists of two major components: a Correction Tracking System (CTS) managed by the TDCJ and a Computerized Criminal History (CCH) system managed by the DPS.

Correction Tracking System

The TDCJ has a history of automation problems that have affected the accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of its offender information. In a 1996 report, the Criminal Justice Policy Council (CJPC) found that the TDCJ was not meeting statutory requirements to complete development of the CTS portion of CJIS.[1]

The TDCJ started reengineering its automated system in 1995, and since has completed the design phase at a cost of $13.4 million. TDCJ’s integrated Offender Information Management System is divided into three phases: parole, facilities, and probation. The parole tracking and information system, currently in development, is scheduled for completion in August 2001 at an estimated cost of $25 million. Implementation of the facilities and probation portions of the system is scheduled for 2005.[2]

Computerized Criminal History (CCH) System

The CCH system maintained by the DPS is Texas’ central repository for criminal records. CCH stores information on arrests, prosecutions, and court dispositions. The system also stores fingerprints, using the Automated Fingerprint Information System (AFIS). Texas’s CCH and AFIS systems are linked with a national repository system maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), allowing law enforcement officials to perform national criminal record searches efficiently. Police officers, prosecutors, defenders, judges, corrections officers, and probation and parole officers use the CCH system to retrieve information on prior arrest and convictions. Since two-thirds of all persons arrested for criminal offenses have prior criminal records (often involving offenses in multiple jurisdictions or states), criminal history information can provide law enforcement officials with a valuable tool to track criminals.[3]

At present, 254 Texas sheriff offices and 1,100 police departments submit arrest information to the DPS. The Governor’s office and the Criminal Justice Policy Council have distributed federal funds to local jurisdictions to report arrest and disposition information to the DPS electronically.

CCH System Disposition Reporting

State courts are required by law to submit information on criminal convictions to DPS for inclusion in the CCH database. Some courts submit this data electronically, but the majority submit paper records. Since 1992, the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division has distributed more than $3.5 million in federal grants to 54 counties for the implementation of electronic reporting of case dispositions.[4] DPS has certified 34 counties as capable of transmitting such information correctly.[5]

The 1997 Legislature created the Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT) to establish standards and guidelines for the electronic integration of state trial and appellate court information.[6] For fiscal 2000 and 2001, JCIT received a total of $9.8 million in funding for this purpose.[7] JCIT has developed a model for electronic court data transfers that would involve an Internet “portal” site through which courts could submit judicial opinions and case management information. The portal then would transmit this information electronically to the appropriate local or state agency.[8] In an effort to implement an electronic portal, however, JCIT must ensure that it does not interfere with the courts’ ability to submit accurate disposition information to the DPS in a timely manner.

CCH System Arrest/Fingerprint Reporting

In 1996, CJPC received a $17 million, five-year federal discretionary grant (three years plus two one-year extensions) to create systems for reporting arrest information electronically. CJPC used the grant to fund DPS’ AFIS system and to assist large law enforcement agencies in reporting fingerprint and arrest information electronically using “Live Scan” equipment, which scans fingerprints without using ink and allows the fingerprints to be edited to ensure good quality.

The CJPC purchased Live Scan equipment for 31 Texas law enforcement agencies with money from the federal grant; Harris County purchased its own Live Scan system. Some agencies have integrated the electronic system into their fingerprinting procedures, while others use it infrequently, if at all. At this writing, DPS receives data on more than 3,500 arrests each week through Live Scan systems, about 35 percent of the total number of arrests reported to it each week.[9]

Travis County police officers do not use the Live Scan machine provided by the state. Instead, they prefer to use the traditional method of ink “rolling” for taking fingerprints. Dallas’ Live Scan system is not even operational. By contrast, the Bexar County Sheriff Department has used Live Scan since January 2000, and the department reports that the system saves time and captures fingerprint information more accurately than ink-rolling.[10]

Agencies must use the Live Scan system to connect to AFIS and submit information to DPS electronically, although Live Scan, which costs about $70,000 per machine, may be cost-prohibitive to smaller law enforcement departments. AltaScan, a (Webbased) system produced by Litton PRC, converts fingerprint images and demographic data electronically to submit them by e-mail to law enforcement agencies; this system costs only about $14,000.[11]

CCH Accuracy Issues

Data in the CCH system are incomplete because the records are based on information provided by local justice agencies. A 1996 State Auditor’s Office (SAO) evaluation of the CCH system indicated that criminal history information on arrests, prosecutions, and court decisions will not be complete, accurate, and timely until DPS controls are strengthened. In this evaluation, a CJPC sample of 1995 records indicated that DPS has experienced significant problems in obtaining data from local jurisdictions, finding that local jurisdictions failed to enter 27 percent of known arrest information and 50 percent of known felony case dispositions into the CCH system. CJPC determined that some local jurisdictions failed to report information, while others did not resubmit information that was rejected because it did not meet DPS requirements for completion or the disposition record did not match an arrest record.[12] E-texas interviews with Arizona, Florida and New York law enforcement officials indicate that such problems are not unique to Texas.

A recent e-Texas review of local jurisdictions found that the problems reported by the SAO in 1996 still exist. The Austin Police Department (APD), for instance, is a full year behind in sending arrest information to the DPS.[13] Consequently, DPS cannot accept conviction information sent by the Travis County Court because it has no matching arrest information.[14] As a result, DPS does not have conviction information for any felons arrested in Austin during the last year. If a school district or day care center uses DPS to perform a background check, a person convicted of drunk driving or endangering a child would not be listed until the arrest is reported to DPS.[15]

Although some Texas jurisdictions have reported progress in conviction reporting, additional improvements are still needed. CJPC sponsored a workshop in July 2000 for courts that report dispositions electronically, and found widespread confusion about both the reporting process and the proper procedures for correcting information included on the DPS error report. Agencies also noted that DPS rarely follows up on error corrections or provides assistance to local authorities. One county noted that DPS field staff had not visited its site in more than three years.[16]

Incomplete felony information can lead to firearm licensing problems. Criminal background checks are necessary to purchase a firearm and to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon in Texas. Of the 215,000 Texans that have such a license, more than 400 were subsequently found to have prior convictions, and more than 3,000 have been arrested since obtaining a license. DPS blamed some of these problems on the FBI’s records for out-of-state crimes, but a Los Angeles Times investigator identified dozens of cases in which the conviction information was in Texas.[17]

CCH Data Used by School Districts

DPS receives many requests from school districts and other public agencies to search for criminal records of prospective employees. DPS does not require organizations to submit these requests in a standard format, and some school districts request conviction information, while others want both arrest and conviction information. As a result, DPS devotes a great deal of staff time to processing requests and providing information in many different formats.


A.Article 60.02 (j) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure should be amended to require the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council (CJPC) to analyze the accuracy and completeness of data in the Texas Criminal Justice Information System every two years, instead of the current statutory mandate of five years.
B.CJPC should monitor the development of the Correction Tracking System to ensure that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Department of Information Resources (DIR) meet the projected implementation date of 2005.
C.CJPC should develop a plan to encourage local law enforcement entities to report CCH information without overburdening them. In addition, CJPC should consider the need for sanctions for noncompliance.
D.CJPC should work with the Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT) to develop a plan to ensure that any new portal system that JCIT chooses to support does not interfere with the courts’ ability to submit accurate disposition information to DPS in a timely manner.
E. CJPC should assist city and county jurisdictions in obtaining federal and/or state grant money.
F. CJPC along with the Department of Public Safety should analyze less-expensive alternatives to the Live Scan system for submitting fingerprints electronically to DPS.
G. CJPC should work with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to develop audit procedures for reviewing criminal history data submitted by local jurisdictions.
H. CJPC should work with DPS to develop guidelines for criminal history requests from public entities.

Fiscal Impact

The review of the CCH system would have no fiscal impact, although it would expand CJPC responsibilities.

CJPC should work with local police departments, sheriff offices, and courts to develop a plan to ensure better compliance in the reporting of CCH information. This should have no fiscal impact on local entities and should streamline the process local agencies use to report information to the state.

[1] Criminal Justice Policy Council, Accuracy and Completeness of Texas Computerized Criminal History Resources, Austin, Texas, August 1996, p. i.

[2] Interview with Jeff Baldwin, executive assistant, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Austin, Texas, February 18, 2000.

[3] US Department of Justice, Use and Management of Criminal History Record Information: A Comprehensive Report, Washington, DC, 1993, p. 14.

[4] Criminal Justice Policy Council, Accuracy and Completeness of Texas Computerized Criminal History Resources, p. iii.

[5] E-mail communication from Angie Klein, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, Texas, May 16, 2000.

[6] V.C.T.A., Government Code, §4, Subtitle F, Title 2, Chapter 77.

[7] Conference Committee Report, Texas H.B. 1, 76th Leg., Reg. Sess., p. IV-12, 1999.

[8] Interview with Bill Chambers, technology strategic planner, Judicial Committee on Information Technology, Office of Court Administration, Austin, Texas, March 13, 2000.

[9] Interview with Gene Draper, deputy director of the Criminal Justice Policy Council, Austin, Texas, August 30, 2000.

[10] Interview with David Gavin, chief of Administration Crime Records Service, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, Texas, February 7, 2000; and telephone interview with Gene Draper, deputy director of the Criminal Justice Policy Council, Austin, Texas, September 1, 2000.

[11] E-mail communication from Angie Klein, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, Texas, May 16, 2000.

[12] Criminal Justice Policy Council, Accuracy and Completeness of Texas Computerized Criminal History Resources, p. i-iii.

[13] Interview with Colene Waters, Crime Records Division, Austin Police Department, Austin, Texas, April 27, 2000.

[14] Interview with Neomia Bailey, Records Management, Travis County Court, Austin, Texas, May 5, 2000.

[15] “Sheriff Candidates Lambaste Each Other,” Austin American-Statesman, November 1, 2000.

[16] Criminal Justice Policy Council, Transcript of Electronic Disposition Reporting Workshop I, July 10-11, 2000, San Antonio, Texas, and Austin, Texas, October 18, 2000, p. 81.

[17] “Felons Get Concealed Gun Licenses Under Bush’s ‘Tough’ Law,” Los Angles Times, October 3, 2000.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

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