AZ study finds serious lapses in criminal background check system

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A new state report shows lapses and gaps in the criminal background check system could put public safety at risk.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission released a nearly 90-page study Thursday that examined the state’s reporting system. A task force found inefficiencies and missing information from the database. 

As a result, a number of felons, domestic violence offenders and mentally ill may not have been entered in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System used by gun dealers, as well as law enforcement and employers.

While the Justice Commission couldn’t give an exact estimate on the number of individuals missing from the system, the number is believed to be in the tens of thousands.

“This is very scary,” said Anthony Coulson, a former DEA supervisor and consultant who worked on the report.

“The problem is if you don’t have people in the systems, the universal background checks are worthless,” he continued.  “The idea is to get those people in there who are classified as prohibited possessors and reduce casualties of gun violence.”

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission told 3TV issues with the current system stem from agencies not following the same reporting guidelines, as well as continued reliance on a paper-based system.

Paper “disposition reports” filled out by the various law-enforcement agencies are submitted to the Department of Public Safety by mail. DPS then submits them to the state, which then submits them to the national database.  

However, the lag time could be days, weeks or months, according to the task force, which also found large amounts of missing information on criminal records.

“Statewide, Arizona is missing disposition information on 33.6 percent of felony arrest counts and 25.1 percent of misdemeanor domestic violence arrest counts,” according to the report, titled ‘Arizona NICS Records Improvement Plan.’

The problem is if you don’t have people in the systems, the universal background checks are worthless.

- Anthony Coulson, Consultant on report

The ACJC said fixing the problem could cost an estimated $24 million. The solution would be technology based.  It would also encourage all state law-enforcement agencies to follow the same reporting guidelines in an effort to create a uniform and efficient system.

“What we’re trying to avoid is that next tragedy that fires people up, gets people motivated enough to really address the issue of gun violence in our community,” said Phillip Stevenson of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.