US Air Force(WASHINGTON) — The Secretary of the Air Force appeared before Congress Wednesday amid continued concerns that U.S. military services are not adequately reporting service members’ criminal records to law enforcement.
The issue started a national conversation after it was revealed Devin Kelley, the shooter who killed 26 people in a Sutherland, Texas church last month, was a former airman whose domestic violence conviction was not properly transmitted to an FBI database, which would have prohibited his purchase of a firearm.
“It was clear very early that Mr. Kelley’s criminal history was not reported, and it should have been,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “In the weeks since, our review has determined that the breakdown in reporting was not limited to this case, and it was not limited to this detachment at Holloman Air Force Base.”
Wilson has admitted the Air Force has “a more systemic problem” when it comes to reporting data to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
But it’s not just the Air Force.
Last month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley acknowledged there are a “significant amount of omissions” that show the Army needs to “tighten up” its reporting of criminal activity to federal agencies. He estimated that as many as 10 to 20 percent of the Army’s cases are not reported.
“It’s not just an Air Force problem,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon several weeks after the Sutherland, TX shooting. “It’s a problem across all the services where we have gaps in reporting criminal activity of people in service when they’re convicted or they get a dishonorable discharge or those sorts of things, getting that over the appropriate law enforcement agency.”
A Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) report released Tuesday showed a much more pervasive problem with reporting standards across the services beyond Kelley’s case.
Commissioned in February, investigators focused on whether the military services were meeting the requirement to forward fingerprint cards and the disposition of criminal cases to the FBI.
The IG reviewed the cases of service members convicted by court martial from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, a time frame that would not have included Kelley, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to assaulting his then-wife and her infant son.
According to the report, 24 percent of the 2,502 fingerprint cards that should have been submitted from across the military services to the FBI over a two-year period were never transmitted. And an even higher percentage — 31 percent — of the 2,502 final disposition records were never submitted.
Glenn Fine, the acting Inspector General for the Department of Defense, told the Committee on Wednesday that DoD IG has long found “serious deficiencies” in how the department submits its information to the FBI.
An earlier review conducted in 1997 found “significant gaps” with the service’s compliance, Fine said, as did a review completed in 2015.
DoD IG is currently investigating what happened in the case of Kelley, as well as conducting another broader review of the department’s practices when it comes to submitting information to FBI databases.
Since the deadly shooting in Texas that revealed gaps in the Air Force’s reporting deficiencies, Wilson has implemented several changes while the service has two task forces review its criminal records database — which she believes will take another four to five months to complete.
Now, second and third checks have been instated to ensure criminal files are properly recorded, including requiring the case investigator to print a photo or screenshot of the file in the FBI database for Air Force records.
Additionally, annual audits within the Air Force will begin in the next year to make sure the new changes are ensuring criminal records aren’t falling through the cracks, Wilson said.
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