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Enhancing Criminal Justice and Homeland Security Capabilities: N-DEx Fulfilling Its Vision to Support Law Enforcement

By Charlie Bush, Major (Retired), Michigan State Police; and IACP N-DEx Outreach Liaison


The National Data Exchange (N-DEx) became operational March 18, 2008. Long before the first records were put into the system, however, the catalyst for N-DEx’s success was put in place though the process that supported the system’s creation. A nationwide position paper on N-DEx was developed and adopted by the IACP, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association in August 2005.1 This paper was in support of, and not in conflict with, the efforts of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. The recommendations for system development, administrative support and oversight; sustainment considerations detailed in the position paper; and the front-end buy-in by the leadership of the major law enforcement associations were critical early steps in the development of N-DEx.

The CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB)

“The FBI established the CJIS Advisory Process to obtain the user community’s advice and guidance on the operation of all CJIS programs. The philosophy underlying the advisory process is one of shared management; that is, the FBI along with local and state data providers and system users share responsibility for the operation and the management of all systems administered by the FBI, for the benefit of the criminal justice community. The APB is responsible for reviewing appropriate policy, technical, and operational issues related to CJIS Division programs and for making appropriate recommendations to the FBI director.”*

*U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clarksburg, WV, October 19, 2011, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/apbucrissue1_3.pdf (accessed December 3, 2012).

The mission of N-DEx, “To provide law enforcement with a powerful new investigative tool to search, link, analyze and share law enforcement/criminal justice information such as, incident/case reports, booking and incarceration data, and parole and/or probation data on a national basis to a degree never before possible,”2 has provided additional structure and guidance. The mission can be thought of as “what” is N-DEx going to do, while the N-DEx vision explains the “why” behind the effort. The N-DEx vision is “[t]o share complete, accurate, timely, and useful law enforcement/ criminal justice information across jurisdictional boundaries and to provide new investigative tools that enhance the nation’s ability to fight crime and terrorism.”3

Implementing N-DEx enhancements and expansions has followed a systematic and structured process. Where the position paper provided a firm foundation on which N-DEx could be built, the system has developed under the close review and the support of the Advisory Policy Board, its working groups, and various subcommittees. This process has allowed criminal justice professionals active involvement in system operational, technical, and policy developments.

More than 3,850 law enforcement agencies—21 percent of state, local, and tribal agencies—are now submitting data to N-DEx. As of November 2012, the system contained more than 145 million records (an increase of 20 million records from November 2011) and one billion searchable entities (an increase of 220 million entities from November 2011).

It is this growth in the number of contributing agencies, searchable records, entities, and the number of criminal justice practitioners who access N-DEx that provides the opportunity for N-DEx to fulfill the vision of enhancing the ability of U.S. federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers to fight crime and terrorism. As use of the system expands, the number of successful outcomes also continues to grow. As originally envisioned, use of N-DEx has provided investigators with information to identify connections from their active investigations to investigations that have been submitted by other agencies, using disparate records management systems and geographically distant data. In short, no other mechanism or system exists that would have allowed this “connection of the dots.”


Case Studies
Steps to Secure N-DEx Access
  1. Obtain an LEO membership. Applications can be found on the LEO website at http://www.leo.org.
  2. Log in to the LEO Enterprise Portal.
  3. Select the “My Services” tab, select the “LEO” icon, and choose “Yes” to exit the portal.
  4. Locate the N-DEx icon on the bottom right of the LEO home page in the “Spotlights” section, and click the “Request N-DEx Access” link.
  5. Choose the “Federal,” “States,” or “Tribal” link corresponding to your agency.
  6. Locate your sub-SIG (listed alphabetically), and click “Request Access.”
  7. Click the “I Meet the Criteria” link. In the text field, it is mandatory to enter
    • your supervisor’s name,
    • your supervisor’s phone number,
    • your originating agency identifier, and
    • your email address.
    If you receive a message stating you do not meet the criteria for N-DEx access, please call LEO Technical Support at 888-334-4536, and provide your National Crime Information Center originating agency identifier. You may then return to request access to N-DEx.
  8. Click “Submit” to forward your request.
The moderator will review your request. When your request access is approved, an email will be sent to your LEO account alerting you that your N-DEx account is now accessible.

N-DEx crosses state boundaries to solve a homicide. During a homicide investigation in spring 2010, a Hood River County, Oregon, Sheriff’s Office detective determined that the suspects lived out of state. Using N-DEx, the detective discovered records from the Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department (LASD) containing information on the suspects, including information on several associates residing in California. Coordinating with the LASD detective listed as the point-of-contact in one of the records, the Hood River County detective eventually was able to develop the case to the degree that one of the suspects could be arrested in California.

Thereafter, the detective was able to interview the suspect in Los Angeles and obtain additional information important to the case. Three convictions resulted from this case. The shooter in the case was convicted of aggravated murder and received a sentence of 37 years to life. The two female accomplices had been charged with homicide, but they agreed to testify against the shooter and were convicted of first degree robbery and received sentences of eight-and-a-half years.

N-DEx helps to locate a murder suspect. N-DEx was used in Delaware to enhance officer safety and awareness while officers protected a woman and her children during a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) operation to arrest a homicide suspect.

A suspect and two coconspirators allegedly conducted a home invasion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in spring 2008. During the home invasion, the owner of the residence was shot and killed. A suspect from the homicide was identified as one of the defendants in a subsequent Philadelphia Police Department investigation, and an arrest warrant was issued in summer 2011.

The FBI Philadelphia Violent Crimes Squad assisted in the investigation, and the suspect’s name was queried in N-DEx for additional information. The N-DEx results indicated the Wilmington, Delaware, Police Department had contact with the suspect in 2010 regarding a domestic abuse case. This information corroborated a possible home address for the suspect. It also noted the possible presence of the suspect’s wife and two small children. The possibility that children may be present during the execution of the arrest warrant was relayed to case agents in the Philadelphia and Wilmington police departments and the FBI Wilmington resident agency.

Wilmington FBI agents and a Wilmington Police Department SWAT team executed the warrant, and the suspect was arrested without incident in Wilmington. Prior to the arrest in Delaware, the suspect was not part of any active case in Delaware.

Due to the distance and the disparate records management systems, the connections that assisted in the successful outcomes of these two cases would not have been possible except for the participation in N-DEx by both of the involved law enforcement agencies.

In June 2012, another important step forward occurred when N-DEx shifted from an emphasis on seeking records from only law enforcement agencies to reaching toward the full life cycle of the criminal justice process, including booking, prosecution, judicial, incarceration, probation, and parole information. By the end of November 2012, three states’ departments of corrections had joined N-DEx as submitting agencies. This shift did not represent a new strategy but rather the implementation of the strategy that was built into the structured, phased implementation plan.

Criminal justice leaders who want to participate in N-DEx have two options to consider:

  • They can access the system to query against records submitted to N-DEx by other criminal justice agencies; or
  • They can submit records into the system, allowing those records to be accessed by other authorized N-DEx participants.

Accessing N-DEx to query against records is an easy first step for an agency. There is no charge for access, and no special software is needed. Generally, all that is needed is access to the Internet, a Law Enforcement Online (LEO) account, and approval from the state’s CJIS system officer. An agency does not have to submit data in order for agency personnel to have access to N-DEx. There are computer-based training modules that can be accessed from the LEO homepage to assist in policy and operational training for those with approved access. Both the FBI N-DEx Project Office and the team at the IACP are also available to assist with training questions.

Although the access question is the easy step, agencies also should strongly consider submitting records into the system. System access is free, but there is technical work that must be done to allow for the submission of records. Generally, an agency’s records management system vendor will be required to complete technical work to allow for the data submission, and it should be expected that there will be some costs for the agency for the work completed by the vendor. The FBI’s N-DEx Project Office provides technical support to complete the mapping and testing process. Once the technical work is completed and the work is tested, there is no duplicate entry of information required. Beyond the technical and financial issues, there are other areas that should be considered by a criminal justice leader making a decision to submit their agencies’ data to N-DEx. State and local legal requirements or guidelines for information sharing should be explored, agency policy related to victim and juvenile information should be considered, and a determination on what information the agency wants to share should be made. For law enforcement agencies, the types of data that are entered range from traffic citations to full, open access to most—if not all—agency incident reports.

With these considerations, it is understandable why an agency might proceed with caution when deciding whether or not to submit records. Some may be inclined to make a quick decision not to submit. Leaders should not overlook the biggest reason to share their records. As explained by Kent County, Michigan, Sheriff Larry Stelma, “The benefit of N-DEx is not from the data you get, but rather in the data you give” He pointed out allowing other departments to leverage his agency’s information can contribute to crime prevention and resolution in his area of responsibility, too.4

As N-DEx approaches its fifth anniversary as an operational national criminal justice information sharing system, its greatest opportunity for improvement lies with criminal justice leaders who determine that the effort and the resources required to authorize system access will be exceeded by the benefits of full participation. ?


Notes:
1Mark A. Marshall, “Understanding the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) System,” PoliceOne.com, July 30, 2007, http://www.policeone.com/communications/articles/1295732-Understanding-the-National-Data-Exchange-N-DEx-System (accessed December 7, 2012).
2FBI, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, (CJIS) National Law Enforcement Data Exchange (N-DEx) Policy and Operating Manual, updated August 9, 2012, 4, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/n-dex/policy-and-operating-manual (accessed December 7, 2012).
3Ibid.
4Ashbel T. Wall, “President’s Message,” Corrections Directions 28, no. 1 (January 2011), http://www.asca.net/system/assets/attachments/2186/ASCA_Corrections_Directions_Jan2011.pdf?1297186740 (accessed December 7, 2012).

N-DEx Information Hotline: 304-625-4242
IACP Information Sharing Initiatives: 800-843-4227, extension 812

Please cite as:

Charlie Bush, "Enhancing Criminal Justice and Homeland Security Capabilities: N-DEx Fulfilling Its Vision to Support Law Enforcement," The Police Chief 80 (February 2013): 34–37.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 2, February 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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