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

Robert L. Mitchell | Oct. 25, 2013
Only 23 percent of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. participate in a national data warehouse but observers remain hopeful.

N-DEx functions as a giant law enforcement search engine, allowing investigators to enter text strings and limit results by geography, date ranges, contributor and other criteria, and it already contains some 180 million records that track over 1 billion people, places and events.

Results so far
"N-DEx allows law enforcement in another state or city to help solve your crimes for you. It puts the solution to the crime where the criminal is, not where you are," says N-DEx program manager Michael Haas.

For example, he says, in 2011 when the suspects in a murder case in the Pacific Northwest suddenly turned up in the Southwest during an unrelated incident, investigators there had immediate access to the incident report containing the homicide details. Detectives were then able to elicit information that resulted in the suspects being returned to the Pacific Northwest, where they were subsequently charged and convicted for murder.

In another case, David Heim, a state trooper, now retired, with the Kansas Highway Patrol and an early user of N-DEx, accessed it from his laptop using the FBI's Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal. During one routine traffic stop in 2010, he says N-DEx revealed that one person in the vehicle was wanted for a drive-by shooting. That person was arrested.

But in his report he identified another occupant in the vehicle, who had no record. "The other guy, he's not associated with the gang, but the gang task force certainly wants to know that he's associating with a gang member." So they entered him into the system as a known associate.

"There's a feature where if I'm watching someone I can put him in the system, and if he gets a record I'll get an email," he says. "Little things like that can sometimes tie a case together later on."

During another stop in 2010, Heim says, the driver of a vehicle carrying 13 illegal aliens claimed he didn't have his ID and provided a false name that, when searched on N-DEx, turned out to be an alias known only to the Department of Justice's Joint Automated Booking System, another N-DEx contributor. The system returned the man's mug shot, along with information on his conviction for human trafficking. Correctly identified, he was then arrested and prosecuted for human smuggling.

Though not the system's core function, N-DEx also includes some analytics tools, such as geo-visualization, timelines and other linking resources. It can geographically map specific types of crimes and identify relationships between them.

"That is one of the strengths of the system," says Tim Bryan, program manager of information sharing initiatives at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), an organization that provided feedback throughout the development of N-DEx.


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