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It's criminal: Why data sharing lags among law enforcement agencies

By Robert L. Mitchell, Computerworld
October 24, 2013 10:51 AM ET

Computerworld - In 2008 the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services division (CJIS) embarked on an ambitious effort to enable information sharing among every federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agency in the United States. It launched the National Data Exchange (N-DEx), an $85 million data warehouse project, and waited for the data to roll in. Kevin Reid, the program manager at that time, expected the majority of agencies to be voluntarily participating by 2009 -- two years ahead of plan.

Today, five years later, around 4,200 of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement organizations -- around 23% of agencies -- are contributing data to the system. Money, politics and technology have all played a role in the delays.

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CJIS has faced a difficult challenge for any IT project: How do you get a diverse array of independent organizations to engage with a new technology for the common good when each has its own priorities -- and when participation requires a substantial investment in both time and money to get connected?

Although CJIS does not charge agencies to use the service, software upgrades and integration of existing records cost money -- sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars, experts say.

Launched in the depths of the recession, the program quickly fell behind schedule. There are signs, however, that N-DEx participation may finally be gaining some momentum.

The idea behind N-DEx was to establish a set of data sharing standards and a central hub, a giant data warehouse into which CJIS could pull together law enforcement incident reports from thousands of disparate, proprietary and often incompatible federal, state, local and regional databases and data sharing networks.

In this way, the theory went, investigators at every level could identify patterns of criminal activity that span multiple jurisdictions to help solve crimes. Authorized users could access N-DEx through a Web portal or by way of their own agency's records management system, once it was configured to do so.

Great expectations

Although it has yet to reach critical mass, N-DEx has already shown promise in allowing investigators to "connect the dots" across state borders when investigating crimes, says Maury Mitchell, director of the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, a major contributor to N-DEx.

N-DEx at a glance

Who shares

Over 4,200 agencies sharing 214 million records, including those from:

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Federal Bureau of Prisons

Drug Enforcement Administration

Department of Justice and Joint Automated Booking System

United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations

Department of Homeland Security. Access to 35 million records from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection, provided to N-DEx users.

D-DEx DoD Exchange. Includes Pentagon police, NCIS, Army and other DoD law enforcement.

What's shared

Law enforcement incident reports and corrections data.

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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