The FBI Identification Division was established in 1924 when the
records of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the
Leavenworth Penitentiary Bureau were consolidated in Washington, D.C.
The original collection of only 810,000 fingerprint cards has expanded
into many millions. The establishment of the FBI Identification
Division resulted from the fact that police officials of the Nation
saw the need for a centralized pooling of all fingerprint cards and
all arrest records.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers identification service free
of charge for official use to all law enforcement agencies in this
country and to foreign law enforcement agencies which cooperate in the
International Exchange of Identification Data. Through this
centralization of records it is now possible for an officer to have
available a positive source of information relative to the past
activities of an individual in his custody. It is the Bureau's present
policy to give preferred attention to all arrest fingerprint cards
since it is realized that speed is essential in this service.
In order that the FBI Identification Division can provide maximum
service to all law enforcement agencies, it is essential that standard
fingerprint cards and other forms furnished by the FBI be utilized.
Fingerprints must be clear and distinct and complete name and
descriptive data required on the form should be furnished in all
instances. Fingerprints should be submitted promptly since delay might
result in release of a fugitive prior to notification to the law
enforcement agency seeking his apprehension.
When it is known to a law enforcement agency that a subject under
arrest is an employee of the U.S. Government or a member of the Armed
Forces, a notation should be placed in the space for occupation on
the front of the fingerprint card. Data such as location of agency or
military post of assignment may be added beside the space reserved for
the photograph on the reverse side of the card.
Many instances have been observed where an individual is fingerprinted
by more than one law enforcement agency for the same arrest. This
duplicate submission of fingerprints can be eliminated by placing a
notation on the first set of fingerprints sent to the FBI requesting
copies of the record for other interested law enforcement agencies,
thereby eliminating submission of fingerprints by the latter agencies.
If a photograph is available at the time fingerprints are submitted to
the FBI Identification Division, it should be identified on the
reverse side with the individual's complete name, name of the
department submitting, the department's number, and it should be
securely pasted in the space provided on the fingerprint card. If a
photograph is to be submitted at a later date, it should be held until
the identification record or no record reply from the FBI is
received in order that FBI number or fingerprint classification can be
added to the reverse side of the photograph for assistance of the
Identification Division in relating it to the proper record.
The FBI number, if known, and any request for special handling, such
as collect wire or telephone reply, should be indicated on the
fingerprint card in the appropriate space. Such notations eliminate
the need for an accompanying letter of instructions.
As indicated, the FBI's service is given without cost to regularly
constituted law enforcement agencies and officers. Supplies of
fingerprint cards and self-addressed, franked envelopes will be
forwarded upon the request of any law enforcement officer. The
following types of cards and forms are available: Criminal (Form
FD-249), used for both arrest and institution records; Applicant (Form
FD-258); Personal Identification (Form FD-353); Death Sheet (Form
R-88); Disposition Sheet (Form R-84); Wanted Notice (Form 1-12);
Record of Additional Arrest (Form 1-1). An order form for
identification supplies appears each month with the insert to the FBI
Law Enforcement Bulletin.
In addition to its criminal identification activities, the Bureau's
Identification Division maintains several auxiliary services. Not the
least of these is the system whereby fugitives are identified through
the comparison of fingerprints which are received currently. When a
law enforcement officer desires the apprehension of a fugitive and the
fingerprints of that individual are available, it is necessary only
that he inform the Bureau of this fact so a wanted notice may be
placed in the fugitive's record. This insures immediate notification
when the fugitive's fingerprints are next received.
The fugitive service is amplified by the Bureau's action in
transmitting a monthly bulletin to all law enforcement agencies which
forward fingerprints for its files. In this bulletin are listed the
names, descriptions, and fingerprint classifications of persons wanted
for offenses of a more serious character. This information facilitates
prompt identifications of individuals arrested for any offense or
otherwise located by those receiving the bulletin.
Missing-persons notices are posted in the Identification files so that
any incoming record on the missing person will be noted. Notices are
posted both by fingerprint card and by name, or by name alone if
fingerprints are not available. The full name, date, and place of
birth, complete description and photograph of a missing person should
be forwarded, along with fingerprints, if available. Upon receipt of
pertinent information, the contributing agency is advised immediately.
A section on missing persons is carried as an insert in the Law
The FBI Identification Division has arranged with the identification
bureaus of many foreign countries to exchange criminal identifying
data in cases of mutual interest. Fingerprints and arrest records of
persons arrested in this country are routed to the appropriate foreign
bureaus in cases when the interested agency in the United States has
reason to believe an individual in custody may have a record in or be
wanted by the other nation. Similarly, fingerprints are referred to
the Federal Bureau of Investigation by foreign bureaus when it seems a
record may be disclosed by a search of the Bureau's records. Numerous
identifications, including a number of fugitives, have been effected
in this manner, and it is believed that the complete development of
this project will provide more effective law enforcement throughout
the world. When the facts indicate an individual may have a record in
another country, and the contributor submits an extra set of his
fingerprints, they are transmitted by this Bureau to the proper
In very rare cases persons without hands are arrested. A file on
footprints is maintained in the Identification Division on such
In view of the fact that many individuals in the underworld are known
only by their nicknames, the Identification Division has for years
maintained a card-index file containing in alphabetical order the
nicknames appearing on fingerprint cards. When requesting a search of
the nickname file, it is desired that all possible descriptive data be
The Latent Fingerprint Section handles latent print work. Articles of
evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies are processed for the
development of latent impressions in the Latent Fingerprint Section.
In addition, photographs, negatives, and lifts of latents are
scrutinized for prints of value for identification purposes.
Photographs of the prints of value are always prepared for the FBI's
files and are available for comparisons for an indefinite period.
Should the law enforcement agency desire additional comparisons it
needs only advise the FBI Identification Division, attention Latent
Fingerprint Section, and either name or submit the prints of the new
suspect. It is not necessary to resubmit the evidence. When necessary,
a fingerprint expert will testify in local court as to his findings.
Should a department have any special problems involving the
development or preservation of fingerprints at a crime scene, the
experts are available for suggestions. In connection with the Latent
Fingerprint Section there is maintained a general appearance file of
many confidence game operators. Searches in this file will be made
upon request. In furnishing data on a suspect, the agency should make
sure that complete descriptive data is sent in. Photographs and other
material on individuals who may be identical with those being sought
will be furnished to the interested departments.
During the years many persons have voluntarily submitted their
fingerprints to the Identification Division for possible use in the
case of an emergency. These cards are not filed with the criminal
fingerprints but are maintained separately. Such prints should be
taken on the standard fingerprint form entitled Personal
Identification (Form FD-353). No answer is given to Personal
Identification fingerprint cards.
The fingerprint records of the FBI Identification Division are used
liberally not only by police agencies to obtain previous fingerprint
histories and to ascertain whether persons arrested are wanted
elsewhere, but by prosecutors to whom the information from the
Bureau's files may prove to be valuable in connection with the
prosecution of a case. These records are likewise of frequent value to
the judge for his consideration in connection with the imposition of
sentence. Obviously, the ends of justice may be served most equitably
when the past fingerprint record of the person on trial can be made
known to the court, or information may be furnished to the effect that
the defendant is of hitherto unblemished reputation.
It should be emphasized that FBI identification records are for the
OFFICIAL use of law enforcement and governmental agencies and misuse
of such records by disseminating them to unauthorized persons may
result in cancellation of FBI identification services.