Federal Fugitives

More Timely Entry on National Wanted Person File Is Needed Gao ID: GGD-96-64 February 26, 1996

As a result of earlier work on interagency coordination in apprehending federal fugitives, GAO noted that many entries in the FBI's National Crime Information Center's (NCIC) wanted person file had been made long after arrest warrants had been issued. This was contrary to the policies of the agencies that had made the entries and the widespread view that the timely use of the file aids in the apprehension of fugitives and reduces the risk to law enforcement personnel and the public. GAO did a follow-up review of the entries made in the wanted person file and found that the FBI; the United States Marshals Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); and the Customs Service had entered many fugitives in the file long after their arrests had been authorized. In response to GAO's finding, the FBI, ATF, and the Customs Service did their own reviews and discovered similar entry time problems. GAO concludes that NCIC and its participating agencies need clear, written policies that call for and define "immediate entry" and set forth any exceptions. Moreover, agencies should periodically monitor entry times and reasons for delays and communicate problems and suggest actions to their field offices. Although GAO did not review entry times for all law enforcement agencies in the Justice and Treasury Departments, GAO believes that the same reasons for timely entry generally would apply to these agencies.

GAO found that: (1) FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) require that fugitives be entered onto the wanted persons file within one day after an arrest warrant is issued; (2) the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) allows up to ten days for data entry if the delay serves a valid law enforcement purpose; (3) the Customs Service requires data entry after reasonable efforts to locate a fugitive have failed; (4) the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has no policy regarding the timeliness of data entry; (5) 28 percent of FBI, USMS, ATF, and Customs' entries are made one day after issuance of the arrest warrant, 54 percent within one week, and 70 percent within four weeks; (6) data entry times for dangerous fugitives do not differ substantially from overall data entry times; (7) ATF and Customs do not monitor their data entry times or know the reasons for delays in entering fugitives on the wanted persons file; (8) FBI found that there are delays in between 30 and 50 percent of its data entries, with a median delay of about one week; and (9) all the federal law enforcement agencies plan to take action to minimize data entry delays.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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