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5/7/2009
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Mass. Criminal Database Deemed Public Safety Risk

The 25-year-old system cannot reconcile arrests with court dispositions or use fingerprints to verify criminal history, state auditor Joe DeNucci finds.

Massachusetts' criminal justice information system is outdated and hindering law enforcement efforts to obtain information on criminals and crime, according to State Auditor Joe DeNucci.

DeNucci said Tuesday that a recent audit of the Criminal History Systems Board revealed that the 25-year-old system cannot reconcile arrests with court dispositions or use fingerprints to verify criminal history. The board maintains Criminal Offender Record Information and other data for police, prosecutors, and courts. It holds records on criminals, missing and wanted people files, drivers, and vehicles, and firearms licenses.

"Massachusetts cannot guarantee the reliability of law enforcement decisions that depend on this information," DeNucci said, because the technology is too outdated and ensure the accuracy and efficiency of the information.

He tested the system and reported that it failed to identify 38,000 cases in which there had been convictions. The cases include felonies such as murder and failure to register as a sex offender. He also said there's no link between arrest data given to the State Police and the disposition data entered by the courts. That prevents law enforcement from keeping accurate and up-to-date records, he said.

Massachusetts also fails to use fingerprints to verify criminal information, allowing criminal charges to be entered for the wrong person -- either by mistake or because someone intentionally provides police with someone else's name and birth date, he said.

"These are serious public safety concerns that must be addressed by the commonwealth," DeNucci said in a statement Tuesday.

The audit also showed that the system can't identify all users and prevent improper access, including hundreds of queries on celebrities and public figures for no legitimate work purpose, DeNucci said.

He said the technology is outdated, in part, because of a lack of funding, but added that the Criminal History Systems Board received money from an IT bond and plans to modernize its system. The board is in the process of choosing a vendor and expects the work to be completed within two years.

"I am deeply concerned that the lack of a modern, state-of-the-art criminal-history information system could pose a threat to public safety," DeNucci said. "I am fully aware of the commonwealth's fiscal problems, but effective law enforcement must be a top priority. I hope these serious issues are addressed in the near future."


InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on government IT priorities. Download the report here (registration required).

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