Effective Use of NCIC
(National Crime Information Center)
When a child is abducted, law enforcement must collect and disseminate
accurate information about the event, the child, and the abductor. Memoranda
of understanding (MOUs) for local, state, and regional AMBER Alert plans
must define agency roles and responsibilities in abduction cases and
establish standards for conducting timely and thorough investigations.
The National Child Search Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5779, 5780) requires
law enforcement to immediately enter into the National Crime Information
Center (NCIC) database every reported case involving a missing child.
The intent of this law is to ensure that law enforcement disseminates
as quickly as possible information vital to the recovery of a missing
child. The steps for entering a child abduction into NCIC are critical:
- Enter the information immediatelywith NO delay. Law
enforcement should enter a child into NCIC immediately without delay.
The initial entry should be reviewed within one hour of entry into
NCIC and verified as to the entry time, accuracy of the descriptive
information of the victim and/or perpetrator, vehicle used in the abduction,
and other information that could help law enforcement apprehend the
perpetrator. (Information about the perpetrator should also be entered
in the Wanted Person File if a warrant is issued, and the records should
be linked.) Unfortunately, in some cases data about an abducted child
was not entered into NCIC until hours and even days after the child's
disappearance. Such delays can have disastrous consequences.
- Use the proper NCIC category. Child abduction cases should
be entered into the NCIC Missing Person File in either the endangered
or the involuntary category, and the child abduction (CA) flag should
be entered. An NCIC number will be automatically assigned when the
record is entered. The reporting agency should assign a case or originating
agency case (OCA) number to the preliminary or initial investigation.
Each entry of a child age 17 or under should be reviewed to ensure
that the information has been entered into the appropriate category.
NCIC will then send an immediate notification to the National Center
for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC call center staff
will get in contact with the appropriate law enforcement agency to
conduct the intake of the case and offer all available resources. The
designated supervisor should also audit each entry within one hour
of the initial entry to verify and authenticate each record, signature,
- If an AMBER Alert is issued, the AMBER Alert (AA) flag should
be entered in the record. If the local law enforcement agency
or the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Systems Agency
(CSA) cannot set the flag, NCMEC should be notified immediately so
that NCMEC staff can modify the NCIC record on the agency's
behalf. NCMEC can be contacted at 8008435678 or reporting
agency ORI VA007019W or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
NCMEC will then contact the appropriate state AMBER Alert coordinator,
who will be asked to approve an update of the NCIC record with an
AA flag. The AA flag allows the record to reflect that the child
is the subject of an AMBER-classified abduction and is vital to alerting
law enforcement and to creating a national tracking system for AMBER
Alert cases using the resources of NCIC.
- Add the image of the child to the record when available. When
the photo is made a part of the record, any law enforcement officer
can view the picture of the child. The image capability can also be
used to attach photos of wanted suspects (care should be taken to ensure
that the miscellaneous (MIS) field clearly states that the photo is
of the perpetrator), vehicles, tattoos, and other identifiers.
- Update information about the victim and suspect on an ongoing
basis. Initial police reports are based on preliminary investigations,
and information entered into NCIC can quickly become obsolete. Update
the NCIC entry or record frequently to ensure that the most current
and reliable information is shared with other law enforcement agencies.
The investigator assigned to the case should review the entry to
be sure the information is correct and that all available information
is included. If information on the suspect or vehicle is also entered
into NCIC, the records should be linked.
Strategies for Improving the Use of NCIC
Local, state, and regional AMBER Alert coordinators should pay
close attention to the number and kinds of cases being entered
into NCIC by law enforcement agencies in their jurisdictions. By
examining the data, coordinators can quickly determine patterns
and trends in the accuracy of the information being reported and
then make changes in their policies and practices that will improve
the quality of the data on missing children in the NCIC system.
- Evaluate the quality of preliminary investigations in all
missing children cases. Most abductions that end in homicide
are received initially as missing person cases. That means
that investigating officers need to establish very early in
the investigative process whether the child has been abducted,
so that the case can be put on the best track possible for
successful recovery of the child.
- Request reports of missing children entries from the FBI. Use
FBI reports to analyze patterns in the use of NCIC and determine
whether some cases were entered improperly. Investigators may
also want to use the data to do cold-case reviews of entries
more than five years old.
- Interview terminal control operators. Terminal control
operators are in an excellent position to understand both the
strengths and the weaknesses in the system. Because operators
rely on information relayed from the responding officer, they
may have particularly valuable suggestions for ensuring the quality
of entries made in NCIC. They may also have ideas about the training
needs of AMBER personnel.
- Use the MIS field to provide detailed information that does
not fit in one of the standard NCIC fields. For example,
the following information could be added to the NCIC MIS field:
CHILD IS MISSING UNDER SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, or CHILD IS
BELIEVED TO BE IN A LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION. Information
on the suspect or medical alerts also can be added in the MIS
- Provide refresher training. Both terminal operators
and investigative personnel can benefit from a review of the
policies and procedures for proper entry of information into
NCIC. Topics for discussion include proper coding of cases, linking
entries, imaging capabilities, and proper entry of text information.
- Establish a system for issuing a formal auditing report
on all missing juvenile records entered into NCIC. Review
the reports to ensure that cases were entered into the correct
categories on a timely basis and used the CA and/or AA flags
where appropriate. Results of audits should be analyzed, and
common errors should be addressed through training.
- Modify policies, procedures, and MOUs to ensure that they
reflect the best policies and practices and the most effective
use of NCIC. Areas to consider include responsibility for
training of personnel, formal audits of NCIC records, and identification
of procedural changes that will improve the use of the NCIC
- Educate local agency personnel. Inform them that they
are to immediately accept a complaint report, verbal or written,
of a missing child and to immediately enter a record in the state
system and NCIC and make details of the missing person report
available to the appropriate state missing person clearinghouse.
Office of Justice Programs • Partnerships
for Safer Communities • www.ojp.usdoj.gov