Some sponsors may try to restrict access to law enforcement agencies, but there is a good chance that if they are supported by public dollars that they must be made available to the public. However, access may be limited because of state and local laws that shield law enforcement investigations and tools.
Personal investigators also may need to make use of other types of databases operated for other purposes, such as labor, education or agriculture, depending on the facts of a case. These specialized datasets can be found through Awesome Public Datasets and Datahub. Some databases are simple lists, while others require a higher level of technical expertise and subject matter knowledge.
Here is a sampling of databases available to forensic scientists.
- The Geometric Morphometric Classification of Crania for Forensic Scientists combines software and a collection of measurements for modern cranial remains. The searchable and downloadable database allows for geometrical shape analysis of skull shapes. The database includes cranial information about people from a variety of nations and ethnicities, including North American, European and West African. Sponsor: North Carolina Human Identification and Forensic Analysis Laboratory.
Several agencies, universities and private sources have created resources that help establish and catalog the properties of various items as they burn. These include:
- The Burning Item Database is maintained by the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland-College Park, and the National Center for Forensic Science at the University of Central Florida. In describing the database, the organizers said it provides a central location that contains information about the burning characteristics of various household and office items, and, as a result, reduces the time needed to research and test when investigating a fire. It is funded by the National Institute of Justice.
- The Smokeless Powders Database maintained by the National Center for Forensic Science, University of Central Florida. Smokeless powders, which have been used for both military and civilian purposes, are of interest to investigators because they also have been used for illegal pipe bombs and other improvised explosive devices. As part of their investigation, forensic scientists can use the data to analyze, classify and compare smokeless powder samples based on physical and chemical properties.
- The Ignitable Liquids Database and Reference Collection is maintained by the National Center for Forensic Science – UCF, The database which contains ignitable liquids records, is regularly updated with new ignitable compounds. While analysts try to categorize the ignitable liquids with single classifications, they also include classifications by mixtures.
- Ballistics Toolmark Research Database is maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal government agency. With the use of firearms in so many crimes, it should come as no surprise there is a database to collect and track bullet and cartridge case toolmark data.This open-access platforms assists investigators in the identification of firearms through the development and validation of algorithms, measurement methods and metrics by tracking information, such as what happens when a certain number of rounds are fired from a specific firearm, what happens when different brands of ammunition are fired from a single firearm; and firearms with known identification challenges.
- Next Generation Identification (NGI) is considered a powerful upgrade on the fingerprinting database that has been run by the FBI for decades. Considered the world’s largest electronic repository for biometric and criminal information, NGI provides efficient access for law enforcement to fingerprints, as well as iris and facial recognition. Among this NGI’s capabilities are advanced fingerprint identification, rapid search for individuals of special concern and Rap Back Service, which allows authorized law enforcement agencies to receive notification on activities of people who hold positions of trust, such as teachers and daycare workers as well as those under court supervision or investigation.
- National Software Reference Library, which is also known as the Reference Data Set, is a collection of digital signatures of known, traceable software from a variety of sources that can be used by local, state and federal law enforcement in the investigation of digital crimes. The library, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, allows investigators to comb through evidence on computers and file systems more efficiently.
- National Violent Offender & Domestic Violence Registry is a national clearinghouse for domestic violence registries from each state. It provides lists and search functions to find individuals convicted of a variety of offenses, including criminal confinement, stalking and strangulation. It also provides public records of restraining orders, which are compiled by the courts in each count of each state.
- Lost and Stolen Gun Database (LSGD), run by the FBI’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Tracing Center (NTC), is the only crime gun tracing facility run by the government. Some states provide searchable databases, and others have tried to develop private databases with varying rates of success because of private gun sales and the lack of individual access to the LSGD. All individuals are expected to report lost or stolen firearms to local law enforcement, which must report it to the ATF. The information is then entered into the LSGD.
- Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is probably one of the most well-known criminal investigation databases accessible to law enforcement officials globally, CODIS combines forensic science with computer technology to provide a tool to help solve violent crimes. Federal, state and local forensic investigators are able to exchange and compare information, allowing them to link scenes, crimes and suspects. According to the FBI website, more than 190 U.S. law enforcement agencies and more than 90 in 50 other nations use this database.
- Local and national gang databases. Since the rise of the Mafia during the Prohibition era of the early 29th century, many law enforcement agencies, especially in major cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, have maintained databases that track gangs, their members and activities. However, there are some criticisms of contemporary databases, even from within law enforcement. They include innocent people unknowingly being branded as criminals simply for knowing a gang member, the criminalization of minorities and poor people because of their day-to-day activities, lack of transparency and a greater likelihood of being overcharged and over sentenced for minor offences. According to the National Gang Center, 12 states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington — have statutes related to the creation, implementation and functioning of statewide gang databases
- National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is a comprehensive clearinghouse for crime data. NCIC, which is managed by the FBI, is considered indispensable for criminal investigations because of its nationwide reach. The tens of millions of records are organized into 21 file categories that grow and evolve regularly, including missing persons, unidentified persons and wanted persons. By federal law, only law enforcement agencies are allowed to access records in the NCIC database.
- Human Trafficking Case Law Database, which is sponsored by the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime, tracks the nationalities of millions of victims and suspects, trafficking routes and documented convictions. The UN encourages active participation from the public in helping raise awareness about human trafficking, as well as those who can provide information to help law enforcement officials prosecute those who are engaging in human trafficking. The database contains details related to prosecuted cases from around the world, including the stories of people who have been trafficked.
- Human Trafficking Enactment Database is sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures and federal Officefor Victims of Crime.`gives users the ability to search for human trafficking-related legislation that has been enacted since 2015. The categories include state, topic, keyword and primary author.
- Identity Theft File is a database that allows law enforcement officials to flag stolen identities and identify imposters using information submitted voluntarily by victims. The information collected includes the victim’s name, date of birth, social security number and type of identity theft. The database is supported by the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the National Crime Information Center.
- National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a national information clearinghouse and a resource center for missing, unidentified and unclaimed individuals. More than just a database, NamUs provides technology, forensic services and investigative support. NamUs is run by the National Institute of Justice and University of North Texas- Fort Worth Health Science Center.
- Protection Order Files are maintained as individual state databases of protective orders that are issued. However, there is a main national database run by the U.S. Department of Justice that contains copies of the court orders intended to prevent domestic violence, intimidation and stalking.
- National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR), which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice, is a compilation of the sex offeder registries of states and some smaller jurisdictions. This database is more easily accessible to the public than most law enforcement databases. The NSOR allows individuals to search the registries of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and Native Anerican tribes for identification and location of known sex offenders.
- Violent Criminal Apprehension Program is a FBI database that is designed to collect and analyze information about violent crimes, such as homicides, missing persons and sexual assaults, involving unidentified human remains. The database contains searchable images of people and personal belongings.
20. Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, which was established 61 years ago by the FBI, includes a list of individuals suspected of a variety of alleged crimes, including homicide, robbery and sexual assault, is probably one of the nation’s most high-profile law enforcement tools.
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