Earlier this week, Rhode Island State Representative Patricia Morgan, (R-West Warwick), held a press conference to call out the state's Attorney General, Peter Kilmartin, for not providing her with the number of criminals prohibited from purchasing firearms due to their name being entered into national databases .
Morgan, fearing that Kilmartin is seeking to "take guns away from law-abiding gun owners," seemingly questioned whether Kilmartin is utilizing current law to prevent gun violence, and even posited whether the AG had reported any criminals to federal authorities through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The Attorney General did not mince words in response to Morgan's claims, calling them "foolish," "reckless" and asserting that she "fails to grasp very basic principles of how the various law enforcement databases interface and the role law enforcement agencies play in entering information into those databases."
Read the Attorney General's full statement below
Peter Kilmartin's Statement
It has come to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office that Representative Patricia Morgan and members of the House Republican Caucus are holding a press conference this morning to discuss the Attorney General Office’s “failure to report criminals under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).”
While we have had no conversations with Representative Morgan about what she plans to discuss at this press conference, the notion that the Attorney General’s Office has failed, in any capacity, to report criminals under NICS is blatantly false, and can only be explained by her fundamental lack of understanding of the NICS system, or by a reckless disregard for the truth.
NICS is a federal system for determining if individuals are prohibited or not from purchasing a firearm. The NICS database is located at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia. A “NICS check” is performed by the FBI by checking three databases - the Interstate Identification Index (III) which houses criminal history records, the federal National Crime Information Center system (NCIC), and the NICS index which holds records of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms. The Attorney General’s Office contributes to the NICS daily, through III or NCIC, including convictions, whether someone is on bail, whether someone has been found not guilty by reason of insanity, warrants, and domestic protective orders. The Attorney General’s Office works with its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners and the Courts to update the databases daily. The Attorney General’s Office may only enter data into the various databases for which the Office has statutory and/or FBI authorization.
The integrity of the various law enforcement databases that interface and populate NICS is paramount to public safety, and it is foolish and reckless for Patricia Morgan and her colleagues to imply in any fashion that the Attorney General’s Office does not comply with NICS, and highlights her complete lack of understanding of how the various databases work.
On March 8, 2018, Representative Morgan filed an Access to Public Records Request (APRA) with the Office of Attorney General seeking “The number of names reported to NICS over the last 10 years.” On March 20, 2018, the Attorney General’s Office provided a response stating “this Office does not maintain or possess records responsive to your request. Thus, we cannot provide any records under R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-3(h).” There was no further follow-up or inquiry from Representative Morgan in any manner regarding this request or the subject matter of her request.
The reason the Attorney General’s Office does not maintain the responsive information pursuant to Representative Morgan’s APRA request is because the data input is not counted by name, but rather entry. In other words, a person may be entered into NICS on multiple occasions for multiple reasons in any given year. Moreover, if a person’s record was court-ordered expunged, the data that would have originally been entered into the system would be removed due to court order.
Based on information gathered from a media outlet, it is believed Representative Morgan submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI seeking similar information, and in turn received a similar response from the FBI.
Based on the FOIA and APRA response, it appears that Representative Morgan is taking a huge leap that the Attorney General’s Office has failed to report information to NICS based on these responses. It is not the role of the Attorney General’s Office, or that of the FBI, to decipher what information Representative Morgan was seeking since her APRA request was critically flawed and demonstrated a lack of knowledge concerning the NICS system.
As a state representative, it is disappointing she does not understand how to utilize APRA to obtain responsive information, and is dangerous that she fails to grasp very basic principles of how the various law enforcement databases interface and the role law enforcement agencies play in entering information into those databases.
To assist reporters in understanding the role the Attorney General’s Office has in entering information into various databases, below please find an overview of the BCI Unit. This information is made public through the Office’s Annual Report, which can be read on our website and is submitted to the General Assembly.
The Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), a division of the Attorney General’s Office, serves as the central repository and clearinghouse for all demographic information on individuals arrested as well as court dispositions of crimes in Rhode Island. In addition, BCI provides state and national background check services to the public, reviews and issues licenses for concealed carry permits in Rhode Island, and maintains multiple law enforcement databases, including the Rhode Island Criminal History System (RICH), the Restraining Order and No Contact Order (RONCO) database, Criminal Automated Fingerprint Identification System (CAFIS), and License and Sales Tracking System (LSTS) database for precious metals.
In Rhode Island, information is primarily gathered through CAFIS, a national fingerprint and criminal history system that responds to requests 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to help local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, to solve and prevent crimes. CAFIS provides automated fingerprint search capabilities, latent search capability, and electronic image storage.
Law enforcement agencies submit fingerprints and other identifying information at the time of an arrest via Live Scan machines. The information is transmitted via a dedicated, secure network to the FBI, where it is checked against more than 50 million records. Information is then transmitted back via the secure network to the submitting law enforcement agency. The information is also automatically entered into the Rhode Island Criminal History (RICH) database maintained by BCI. The CAFIS system and the RICH database automatically share and update information in real time as it is electronically or manually entered.
The BCI Unit is responsible for maintaining the accuracy of the information in the RICH database gathered through the CAFIS from the time of arrest to the culmination of the criminal proceeding. As such, the BCI Unit enters criminal case disposition information daily received from prosecutors and the Rhode Island Judiciary into the RICH database system, which automatically updates the FBI system.
Rhode Island General Law §12-1-12 directs that those authorized to collect identifiers of persons arrested shall destroy them within 60 days after the accused has been acquitted or otherwise exonerated. Further, Rhode Island General Law §12-1.3 calls for the expungement of criminal records when certain criteria have been met. The BCI Unit manually processes all expungements and ensures the charge(s) is removed from the individual’s criminal history once notified of the expungement, and notifies the FBI to remove the charge(s) out of its database.
Rhode Island law specifies that all domestic violence and sexual assault protective orders must be filed in the Restraining Order/No Contact Order (RONCO) system located within the Attorney General’s BCI Unit. Orders generated by District, Superior, and Family courts, police departments, and bail commissioners must be filed upon issuance by electronically submitting such orders to the BCI Office no later than the end of the day they were issued. Modifications and terminations of such orders must also be forwarded to BCI and entered by the end of each day.
Last year, 18,771 dispositions were entered into the system by BCI personnel, approximately 10,172 expungements were processed, and approximately 11,000 temporary restraining orders/restraining orders, no contact orders and modifications into the database, with approximately 6,657 remaining active.
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