FBI’s Law Enforcement Engagement Unit
By Christopher Lewis
Most officers are familiar with running a subject’s name through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) or submitting fingerprints to the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system. However, not all of them know these systems are part of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. CJIS also provides other services and resources that can help agencies with identifications, investigative leads, nationwide information sharing, crime trend data, officer safety awareness training, and more.
To help criminal justice partners learn about and access these valuable services, CJIS established the Law Enforcement Engagement Unit (LEEU). The unit engages with officers and the public to lead outreach and communication efforts to increase officer safety, promote the division’s services globally, and develop positive relationships.
Unit staff are well-versed in CJIS’ programs and services, presenting an overview of them virtually through webinars, video conferences, and online meetings or in person at conferences and meetings. The LEEU can also host visitors and conduct tours at CJIS’ campus in Clarksburg, West Virginia. During these engagements, the unit can provide a big picture overview and, when requested, refer authorized criminal justice agencies to subject matter experts.
The FBI has a long history of equipping agencies with vital criminal justice information. CJIS’ programs and services play a crucial role in investigations, providing timely information, resources, collaboration opportunities, and statistical data for decision-making.
- NGI is the FBI’s national repository for biometric identifications and investigative support. It offers identity history services for authorized federal, state, local, tribal, and international agencies. This primarily consists of providing identification services for fingerprints and irises; investigative services for latent fingerprints, palm prints, facial images, and images of scars, marks, and tattoos; and identity history services through checks and challenges.
- NCIC stores documented criminal justice information available to law enforcement and other authorized agencies. This data assists in apprehending fugitives, locating missing persons, recovering stolen property, and identifying those who pose a threat to officer and public safety.
- The National Data Exchange is an unclassified, national investigative information-sharing system that allows law enforcement agencies to search, link, analyze, and share federal, state, local, and tribal records.
- The Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP) is a secure platform for criminal justice agencies/entities and intelligence groups. It provides web-based investigative tools and analytical resources. The services LEEP provides are unrivaled by other platforms available to law enforcement. Participating agencies have access to more than 60 services, including collaboration in a secure environment to help share departmental documents and strengthen cases.
- The Virtual Command Center (VCC) is a critical incident management system providing real-time situational awareness to law enforcement users. VCCs foster multiagency collaboration and allow federal, state, local, tribal, military, and territorial users to seamlessly share data. Given the growing need to make rapid, coordinated decisions, VCCs provide a secure platform for immediate and effective dissemination of information.
- JusticeConnect is a criminal justice network available on LEEP that facilitates information sharing and partnership development for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners in a secure environment. Members can join and create communities, share and store files, discuss topics in forums and blogs, and search for other users with similar interests.
- The Uniform Crime Reporting Program has collected and published crime statistics for the United States since 1930. It also gathers and publishes law enforcement statistics regarding topics such as officers killed and assaulted in the line of duty and use of force.
- The National Threat Operations Center (NTOC) serves as the primary communication channel for the public to provide information to the FBI about federal crimes and threats to national security as well as reports of threats to life. NTOC collaborates with the FBI and external criminal justice partners through efficient processing and reporting methods. In life-threatening situations, NTOC ensures information is forwarded expeditiously to the appropriate FBI field office and/or state or local law enforcement entity to investigate the matter further.
- Court-issued Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) temporarily remove firearms from a person believed to be a danger to themselves or others. Recent mass shootings and other types of gun violence have prompted states to enact legislation attempting to prevent gun tragedies. Many states — to date, 20 and the District of Columbia — have passed “red flag” laws that permit law enforcement, family members, and other parties to petition state courts to order ERPOs. Recognizing the need to relay this vital information across jurisdictional lines, the CJIS Division, in collaboration with the CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB), created an NCIC ERPO File to increase officer and public safety. The new file, implemented in August 2022, allows the data to be accessed for firearm background checks and provides yet another layer of information to CJIS’ partners.
Besides staying current on the latest developments regarding CJIS’ programs and services, the LEEU is also involved in the division’s advisory process. The CJIS APB comprises representatives from law enforcement agencies and national security organizations throughout the United States. Aided by several working groups and ad hoc subcommittees, the board provides recommendations to the FBI director regarding technical and operational topics and policies related to CJIS’ programs and services.
“The unit engages with officers and the public to lead outreach and communication efforts to increase officer safety, promote the division’s services globally, and develop positive relationships.”
The CJIS APB maintains strong relationships between the FBI and criminal justice and national security agencies represented by the board’s members. Staff from nearly all the division’s programs and services participate in the CJIS advisory process, which serves as the cornerstone of the division’s shared management concept. The FBI and its partner agencies are mutually responsible for the operation and management of its criminal justice systems.
Along with the CJIS APB, the LEEU shares information about the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Act of 1998 (Compact). The 15-member Compact Council enhances public safety with noncriminal background checks while protecting individual privacy rights. It ensures that accurate and complete criminal history records are available for noncriminal purposes, such as screening for employment, licensing, and handling immigration and naturalization matters. The FBI director appoints an FBI Compact officer who administers the act across the federal government. Each participating state also appoints a Compact officer.
Along with sharing information about CJIS’ programs and services, the LEEU manages four initiatives.
- The Tribal Engagement Program establishes and fosters relationships with law enforcement agencies in Native American tribes and Alaska Native villages. Program staff identify how tribal agencies are using CJIS’ programs and services and help them overcome obstacles that may prevent them from using all the resources.
- Personnel who provide Officer Safety Awareness Training use research and statistics from the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted data collection to develop training sessions that are held in person or virtually. The sessions assist law enforcement managers and trainers by identifying issues and circumstances contributing to the deaths and assaults of officers, thereby helping to prevent these attacks in the future.
- The Public Safety and Strategy Subcommittee provides guidance and recommendations to the APB regarding the division’s programs and services to meet the needs of law enforcement stakeholders. It develops strategies to strengthen the relationships and partnerships between the FBI and major criminal justice organizations, organizes outreach efforts to prevent crime and increase officer safety, and collaborates across programs to promote CJIS’ services to law enforcement agencies.
- Engaging with the community is very important to the LEEU. The Community Outreach Program (COP) creates and strengthens relationships with minority groups, religious and civic organizations, schools, nonprofits, and other entities. It hosts annual events, such as Teen Academy, Collegiate Academy, Citizens Academy, and the Junior Special Agent Academy. COP also provides volunteers for local initiatives, such as Building Hope (an anti-bullying campaign geared toward freshman classes of local high schools) and the Read Aloud Program (a program in which volunteers read books to children in local Title 1 schools).
The Law Enforcement Engagement Unit helps agencies connect to the appropriate CJIS systems and services. It has the resources to find an answer to any law enforcement question. The LEEU is not only interested in sharing information and resources to promote CJIS’ programs and services but it is seeking feedback and ideas about how the division can better serve the needs of its systems’ users and stakeholders. Law enforcement leaders and CJIS system users can contact the LEEU with questions and comments at email@example.com or by calling 304-625-7768.
“CJIS’ programs and services play a crucial role in investigations, providing timely information, resources, collaboration opportunities, and statistical data for decision-making.”
Christopher Lewis is a writer-editor with the FBI’s Law Enforcement Engagement Unit in Clarksburg, West Virginia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.