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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.

Such linking products are particularly of value to task forces, cold case investigators, fusion center analysts and the prosecution community, Bryan explains. For example, if serial arsons were occurring across a multi-jurisdictional region, investigators from the law enforcement community as well as fire marshals could create a chronological timeline with addresses and responding entities to share with the larger investigative group. The disparate data could be used to develop and eliminate certain suspects, he says.

Haas hopes that N-DEx will also be used as a gateway for access to other CJIS databases, including the division's Next Generation Identification system, an updated version of its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System database that contains wanted lists and arrest warrants, criminal histories, fingerprints, palm prints, facial images and other biometric data used for identification purposes.

N-DEx has continued to evolve in phases. In 2012 CJIS began casting a wider net, encouraging states to submit records from prosecutions, court records, corrections, probation and other related areas. So in addition to the incident information already provided by law enforcement, CJIS is adding data about pretrial investigations, warrants, supervised release details, citations, field interviews and incarceration information.

So far, four state corrections agencies are contributing, and four more are in the data mapping phase. 

CJIS also established controls that participating agencies can use to determine how the records they contribute may be accessed. Owners can restrict access by geography, agency or individual, and can assign each submitted record an openness level ranging from green (full access) to yellow (returns a phone number to call for more information) or red (record does not display due to the requestor's location, job function or agency).

Slow adoption
To date CJIS has 18 state agencies participating, along with thousands more local/tribal agencies, with even more committed. "Once we reach the tipping point, N-DEx will be a vital criminal justice tool for law enforcement," says Mike Wagers, director of provincial police at the IACP. But getting the other 14,000 law enforcement agencies onboard will be more difficult. The technical challenge lies in getting smaller agencies hooked in, he says, noting that 75% of all law enforcement agencies have 25 or fewer officers.

Most agencies want to participate at some level, state and local law enforcement officials say. To help this along, CJIS worked with representatives from law enforcement through the IACP to make sure the tool delivered what they required.

"States are working with CJIS to reduce the cost by standardizing and using the tools CJIS deploys so they don't have to pay for redundant systems that provide a similar function," says Haas. But agencies still must pay to upgrade database software and configure their local record management systems to exchange data with N-DEx.


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