Managing Raps Sheets and Criminal Justice Stats for U.S.

Dr. Gerard Ramker (Ph.D. '83)
Dr. Gerard Ramker (Ph.D '83)

Dr. Gerard “Gerry” Ramker (Ph.D. ‘83), Deputy Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice, will receive the prestigious O.J. Hawkins Award, the only nationally recognized, competitive award for contributions in the field of criminal justice information management.

Dr. Ramker is renowned for his stewardship of three federal programs which award grants to state law enforcement agencies and state courts to update criminal history information, provide statistical analysis of criminal justice data, and improve criminal background check records for firearm purchases. He will be presented the award in July by SEARCH, a nonprofit organization comprised of governor appointees from 50 states, the District of Columbia and the territories. It supports information sharing, interoperability, communications, information technology, electronic crime investigative and criminal records systems for state, local, tribunal justice and public safety agencies and practitioners worldwide.

“My interest has always been in helping the states in these areas,” Dr. Ramker said. “These systems are only successful at the federal level if high quality information is generated at the state and local levels. These programs promote good public safety policy.”

Dr. Ramker was recognized for being a “strong and conscientious support” of programs and research to develop, manage and responsibly share criminal justice information

“Gerry continued to be at the forefront in providing opportunities for the states and other criminal justice agencies to make solid data-driving decision,” according to his SEARCH committee nomination. “These include using research studies and developing meaningful performance measures and quality control indices that can be used by agencies to track and support measures of improvement.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is the United States' primary source for criminal justice statistics. Its mission is to collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government. These data are critical to federal, state, and local policymakers in combating crime and ensuring that justice is both efficient and evenhanded.

Number of criminal justice records availalbe in the U.S.
Number of criminal justice records availalbe in the U.S.
In the 1990s, the Bureau began the National Criminal History Improvement Program, which helped states convert millions of paper criminal records and fingerprints into an electronic database used nationally and internationally. As a result of that program, 76 million “rap sheets” are now instantaneously available to law enforcement agencies as well as non-law enforcement entities conducting background checks. The program continues to improve the quality, timeliness, and immediate accessibility of criminal history records and related information.

The Bureau also funds the State Justice Statistics Program, which provides grants to states to promote statistical analysis capabilities in the states. Those grants have been used for program evaluation, to develop corrections and crime data, to measure the effectiveness of crime prevention programs and to test recidivism reduction efforts.

“The states make great use of the limited awards we make,” said Dr. Ramker.

Photo of a loaded gun barrelThe most recent program administered by Dr. Ramker is known as the NICS Act Record Improvement Program and is focused on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS is the database used by states and federally licensed firearms dealers for background checks on those attempting to purchase weapons. The program, which was enacted in 2008, grew out of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, where a shooter killed 32 students and wounded 17 others. The shooter was able to purchase firearms despite having a history of mental illness. The BJS grant program provides funding to states and courts to make more information available to NICS on the factors that prohibit firearm purchases.

Only 16 states are currently eligible to participate in the program. Before a state can participate, it must pass a state law setting up an appeals process to allow a denied gun purchaser to challenge his/her ineligibility.

Dr. Ramker has worked at the Bureau of Justice Statistics since 2004, and he currently oversees Management, Planning and Budget. He said there are many opportunities available in the Department of Justice for Ph.D. graduates as program managers, researchers, and analysts.

electronic fingerprint record“We provide key information that policymakers use in criminal justice.” said Dr. Ramker. “It is an interesting area, which provides unique and challenging obstacles. It includes reliance on traditional surveys as well as access to state of the art operational information systems.”

Dr. Ramker’s interest in criminal justice histories and statistical analysis began right here at Sam Houston State University, under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Friel. Dr. Ramker worked with Dr. Friel on a project for Harris County building a new jail. The research involved various aspects of the new structure, including its size, layout and program elements.

Dr. Ramker said he learned a key lesson from Dr. Friel. “The only meaningful research is the kind that gets put into use immediately,” said Dr. Ramker. “At the Bureau of Justice Statistics, you are dealing with live issues of great concern to the local, state, and federal governments.”

Dr. Friel also assisted with the founding and development of SEARCH and its work, as well as national statistical systems including the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System. He always kept his doctorals student involved in these efforts.

After graduating from SHSU, Dr. Ramker began his career at the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, where he directed the Research and Analysis Unit and participated in program development for the Illinois State Police’s Division of Forensic Services and Identification. “Since leaving Sam Houston, I have always been working on criminal history record information issues and ways to enhance state statistical analysis capabilities,” Dr. Ramker said.

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