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Lacking adequate resources, states are often unable to provide complete criminal histories to the FBI’s databases, which are critical resources for reducing impaired driving by repeat offenders, according to a new GAO report.
Every year, more than 10,000 Americans are killed in traffic accidents caused by drivers impaired by alcohol, medication or illegal drugs. Many of these drivers have a prior history of driving under the influence, which makes identifying habitual offenders essential in keeping impaired drivers off the roads.
When state and local police pull over intoxicated or impaired drivers, they usually check the vehicle and driver history against databases maintained by the FBI. With access to that data, law enforcement officers can determine whether the driver has been previously convicted for similar offenses, including in another state.
In many cases, however, the relevant data has not been transmitted to the FBI, making it difficult for police to identify repeat offenders, according to a report out this week from the Government Accountability Office.
“Driving while impaired by substances such as alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, or illicit drugs, remains a persistent traffic safety and public health issue,” the report said. “Identifying repeat offenders can help criminal justice agencies take measures to reduce impaired driving, such as imposing escalating penalties for repeat offenses and better targeting programs to reduce recidivism.”
All 50 states voluntarily report criminal history information—including biographic data, fingerprints, arrest reports and dispositions, which is whether the person arrested was charged, convicted or acquitted—to their own state central depositories. An automated process transmits state information to the FBI, making it accessible to criminal justice agencies nationwide.
But insufficient staff, equipment and training is keeping local police and justice agencies from collecting complete criminal histories and sending that data to state repositories, according to the GAO report.
Take fingerprints. Officers, for instance, might issue a citation with a summons to appear in court without collecting fingerprints.
Or some police departments may simply lack the mobile technology to capture fingerprints in the field. Or fingerprints that would be taken in courtrooms sometimes do not get to central state repositories because of paper-based or legacy judicial workflow systems.
In these cases, fingerprint data may never be reported to state or federal databases, according to the report. Other issues that have arisen include officers failing to file arrest records, which means courts would have nothing to link an individual’s disposition information to.
To address these challenges and successfully identify impaired drivers with prior convictions, states have taken advantage of six existing grant programs from the federal departments of Justice and Transportation to make it easier to gather data on impaired drivers and ensure it is transmitted to the appropriate state and federal database.
With federal funding, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, for example, replaced outdated fingerprint scanners and sobriety testing devices. The California Department of Justice upgraded its criminal justice data exchange system to allow courts to submit dispositions online, and the Texas Municipal Police Association created a system to analyze data on DUI offenses.
To enhance training, states used grants to provide specialized education on impaired driving, including trial advocacy, expert testimony and crash reconstruction for police, prosecutors and other traffic safety professionals.
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