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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.

Edson obtained a $900,000 federal grant and paid to have his version of Coplink modified to access N-DEx. Later on, IBM rolled that development work into the basic product and made it available to all customers.

"It became part of the basic Coplink product," which is one of the most widely used law enforcement databases in the U.S., he says. All 4,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. that use Coplink and have software maintenance contracts now can access N-DEx, including all 88 police departments in Los Angeles County alone, Edson says.

But each department still must find the time and resources to upgrade and configure its records management system to access N-DEx. "We still have people waiting to get this upgrade. It's a resource issue, and it takes time" he says.

Overall, Edson is happy with the results. "I encourage other states to regionalize with an inexpensive data warehouse," he says.

That's exactly what the State of Alabama did. It didn't have the budget to buy a commercial product like Coplink, and some of its 350 police departments and 67 sheriffs departments weren't using any computerized incident reporting systems at all.

So Mitchell's organization — the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center —decided to develop and roll out its own statewide data warehouse system that would act both as a reporting hub and a records management system for departments that didn't have one.

The Uniform Crime Report Local Template for Reporting and Analysis (ULTRA) data warehouse and the Mobile Officers Virtual Environment portal became the statewide standards in Alabama in 2010. On January 1, 2012 the state began requiring all 600,000 incident reports it receives each year to be submitted electronically, whether local agencies use the statewide system for their own records management or not.

"We do not require that anyone use the products we provide; however, we do require the submission of the data," Mitchell says. Many agencies use their own software, "which is fine with us as long as they get us the data."

Instead the state offers a carrot: The system is available free of charge for crime reporting and arrest reports. And there's a stick: Agencies that don't comply with reporting requirements aren't eligible for federal grant money. ULTRA now sends all incident reports to N-DEx. "We are one of the largest contributors," he says.

Still other geographic regions have connected into the Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX), a government-funded, data sharing initiative developed and operated by the U.S. Navy to share incident data with local law enforcement near its bases in Virginia and the Pacific Northwest. "It is a way to have situational awareness with local law enforcement," says Chris Cote, assistant director and CIO at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.


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