Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre

Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

The top Air Force civilian told lawmakers Wednesday that the military branch has taken steps to ensure that criminal records make it into federal databases following last month's Texas church shooting at the hands of a former serviceman.

“Since the tragedy, the Air Force has implemented additional measures to ensure current and future offender criminal history data is submitted to federal law enforcement agencies in a timely manner,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Judiciary Committee in prepared testimony.

Wilson said the Air Force has added steps that require local offices to notify higher levels of command before closing criminal cases.

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Case officers must now also check to make sure that information — including fingerprints and criminal reports — has made it into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database.

Wilson appeared before the Senate panel a month after gunman Devin Kelley opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people.

Authorities later found that the Air Force had failed to report Kelley’s domestic violence conviction the FBI. He had been court-martialed and sentenced to a year in prison in 2014 after beating his wife and stepson.

That conviction was not sent by the Air Force to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services, which would then upload such information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), barring Kelley from purchasing a gun.

Wilson said that this oversight was “not limited to this case.”

Lawmakers expressed frustration about the lapse during the hearing.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTop Senate Intel Dem: Trump compiling a 'Nixonian enemies list' It’s possible to protect national security without jeopardizing the economy Archivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents MORE (R-Texas), who is sponsoring a bill to bolster reporting practices for the NICS database, said that if the “current dysfunction in the background check system continue[s], lives are in jeopardy.”

“It is simply unacceptable when you look across the United States Department of Defense, and the failure to upload this essential information, this required information, in the background check system,” he added.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), meanwhile, said he was “struck by the failure of the Department of Defense to comply with the law, year after year.”

Earlier this week the Defense Department inspector general released a report showing that all military services failed roughly 30 percent of the time to submit reports of its members convicted of an offense to the FBI database.

The Air Force is now reviewing the 60,000 criminal cases since 2002 to determine whether they were properly shared with the FBI. She said officials would share results of the review with other services.

“When we have all the facts, we will assess accountability for the breakdowns in this specific case and, more broadly, for any systemic deficiencies,” Wilson said.

She added that the Air Force investigations may continue another four to five months.