It’s been nearly 30 years since Congress first passed a law requiring that the Defense Department track and report crimes in the military community and routinely report them to the FBI.
But despite decades of prodding from Congress and internal Pentagon reviews, it still remains unclear whether the military services have set up a reliable system that can accurately transmit information from command-level courts martial to the FBI’s main database that tracks crime nationwide.
This week all three Defense Department service branches declined to say whether they are reporting military crimes properly.
The military’s crime reporting is in the spotlight this week in the aftermath of the Texas church shooting that killed 26 people on Sunday.
The shooter, Devin Kelley, was a former airman who was court-martialed and convicted in 2012 for beating his wife and stepson. The Air Force failed to report the conviction to the FBI.
Had the Air Force properly reported this information, it would have prohibited the former airman from buying guns.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Monday asked the Defense Department Inspector General’s office to conduct a broad review of how military law enforcement agencies are submitting criminal information to the national crime database.
Mattis specifically asked the IG, the Defense Department’s internal watchdog, to review whether “appropriate information” about Devin Kelley should have been provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in the National Crime Information Center database, whether it was provided, and if not, why not.
But it’s not clear how that IG probe will be any different than previous IG investigations in 2014 and 1997. In both of those investigations, the IG concluded that the Defense Department was not meeting its reporting requirements under law and the DoD vowed to fix that problem.
DoD has spent years developing in internal database known as the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System, or DIBRS, designed to meet the federal requirements.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gary Ross said military law enforcement agencies submit information to the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System, which is provided to the FBI for inclusion in their National Incident- Based Reporting System, the process they use “to comply with DoD’s statutory requirement to provide crime reporting data to FBI.”
“Additionally, the FBI receives information on crimes committed by service members directly from each DoD law enforcement agency through [their respective] processes/systems that interact with FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”
But this week, none of the Defense Department’s military service branches could say whether they are currently and accurately reporting crimes data in accordance with the 1988 law.
In response to Military Times questions about whether they were reporting crime data through this DIBRS system:
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek declined comment, citing the current review under way by the Air Force.
The Navy also declined to comment on its current procedures. “The DoD Office of Inspector General will review relevant policies and procedures to determine whether appropriate qualifying information is submitted by the DoD to the FBI for entry into the NCIC database,” said Cmdr. Bill Speaks, spokesman for the Navy at the Pentagon. “ At this time, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The Army’s public affairs office referred questions about crime reporting to the Army’s Criminal Investigation’s Command, which did not immediately respond to questions.
The Marine Corps said its commands report information “to the FBI, through the [Navy Criminal Investigative Service],” said spokesman Maj. Brian Block. “We are thoroughly reviewing our data and procedures to ensure full compliance.”
The FBI’s National Crime Information Center is one database that is accessed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ― which is what firearms dealers use to do a background check for criminal histories before they sell a gun.
In 2003, DoD Directive 7730.47, “Defense Incident-Based Reporting System,” required personnel and readiness officials to make sure the Defense Manpower Data Center, known as DMDC, built a mechanism to track and report crimes. DoD created the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System, known as DIBRS.
DoD has been working on this process since the 1990s, with a DIBRS Council supporting the system that was created in the 1990s.
In the 2014 DoD response to the IG report, noted that DIBRS has “taken a backseat” to the need for sharing criminal justice information among law enforcement agencies for crime, terrorism, and insider threat prevention and criminal investigative closure. Thus DoD has created the DoD Law Enforcement Defense Data Exchange.
Their 2014 response also noted that this data exchange would ultimately alleviate the need for maintaining systems such as the DIBRS.
The DoD instruction outlining the requirements of DIBRS remains in effect and was updated as recently as April, 2017, military records show.
Defense officials have been criticized over the years for their inability to provide the data to the FBI.
In 1997, the DoD IG conducted an investigation and found that the military criminal investigative organizations were not consistently submitting fingerprint cards and final disposition reports to the FBI criminal history data files.
Twenty years later, that remains an issue. In February of this year, the DoD IG announced a project to evaluate whether DoD law enforcement organizations are submitting required fingerprint cards and final disposition reports to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, for inclusion in the National Crime Information Center criminal history database.
In 2006, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, introduced legislation that would have required then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s pay to be docked for each day that the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System was not up and running. She said noted the federal law had mandated the database in 1988, and that DoD officials had been promising to fully implement the law each year.
Staff writers Steve Losey, Mark Faram, Jeff Schogol and Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.