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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.

That network, which has since expanded into 10 regions, now has more than 1,350 participating organizations, including law enforcement agencies within the Department of Defense. "We are a regional aggregator, a force multiplier for N-DEx," says Cote. About half of the regions are now accessing data from and sending data to N-DEx, and the regional governance boards in the other areas have all agreed to participate. "It's just a matter of local and state CSOs saying they're good with it and for N-DEx and the technical side on our end to make it happen," Cote says.

While the Navy pays for the service in areas where it has bases, other areas, such as South Carolina and Atlanta, have also joined and pay the contractor that manages LInX to participate in the service. "This could be considered the law enforcement data cloud," Cote says. But at some point, he adds, "N-DEx will become the center of gravity."

Limits of sharing
Despite the benefits, some agencies have been reluctant to participate in N-DEx. Besides the costs and technical issues, some states are less than excited at the prospect of sharing local law enforcement data with the Feds. "Egos and politics enter into this," says Bryan.

Also, "the states don't like the feds telling them what to do," says Mitchell. "There's a hesitancy. Are we really going to give everything we know about everybody to the FBI? It's a huge Big Brother." Today, Alabama shares only incident offense reports with N-DEx. The state is hesitant about broadening the scope of sharing to include other data types, such as corrections records, Mitchell says.

"I'm not being negative on N-DEx. There's a place for it," Mitchell says. It is possible that in the future, other types of data from state and local agencies might be made available to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies through a federated access model, rather than exclusively through N-DEx, he adds.

That's something Alabama already does with incident records with Kansas, Wyoming and Nebraska. "If there could be links back to the states' original data repository, there would be a broader desire to join N-DEx," he says, because the state would retain control over the data.

Despite the challenges, most agencies like what N-DEx offers, and the consensus is that its role as the dominant national information sharing hub for law enforcement is inevitable. "Technology, thank goodness, is finally overcoming bureaucracy," Mitchell says. "But we still have a ways to go."

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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.

 

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