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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.

The total cost varies with the size of the agency and the capabilities of the record management system technology it has in place, but total price tag, including integration, can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, says Steve Ambrosini, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute, an industry consortium of vendors of law enforcement software. Not every vendor supports standards-based N-DEx connectivity yet, he says, but those that do can reduce the cost of an N-DEx agency connection by "several multiples."

"Who assumes the costs of mapping the data to allow local data contributors to talk to the FBI architecture?" says Bryan. "No one can afford to spend another thin dime right now, and that has delayed the progression across the country."

"It all comes down to money," says Mitchell, "and most states are still technologically challenged." Of the 80% of law enforcement agencies that serve populations under 50,000, the majority are not well equipped technologically, says Ambrosini.

These smaller organizations have adopted a wide range of commercial record management system products, and they may run older versions — if anything. In many cases even the most current versions don't fully comply with the more than eight-year-old CJIS National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) data exchange standards and the Global Reference Architectures services standard that enables automated data sharing with N-DEx. "Many agencies still have antiquated, even DOS-based records management systems, and a few don't have any records management system," Bryan says.

"Systems integrators are building in base capabilities, but we are still climbing the hill," Ambrosini says. "We need to get commercial providers in that market to adopt the standards."

Law enforcement organizations don't have to contribute to N-DEx to access the system. But they do need to sign a memorandum of understanding, comply with security requirements such as changing the password every 90 days and be subject to audit. "A lot of investigators found that cumbersome, [and] agency coordinators and state CSOs don't need one more thing on their plate," says Bryan.

A change in focus
So over the last few years, CJIS has gradually morphed its focus from an individual-agency access strategy to providing access through regional systems.

The road forward is being paved by regional law enforcement data sharing networks, which can act as data aggregators that feed into the N-DEx system. Some states have developed regional systems that can collect data from multiple jurisdictions and exchange data with N-DEx. For example, Commander Scott Edson at the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department spearheaded an effort to pay IBM to modify its i2 Coplink database so that the department's regional node could share data with, and query, N-DEx.


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