By Vance Hitch, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
hen customers want to buy a book from an online retailer, they do not care where it is shipped from or who published the book. What they want to know is whether the book is available and when they can have it. The same should be true for police officers when searching law enforcement databases for suspects. If officers have a lead on a yellow full-size pickup truck, they want to see other cases where a similar pickup truck might have been involved or implicated.
That information is now available at the federal level through the OneDOJ Initiative, which is designed to allow state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to obtain information from all of the department’s investigative components—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Prisons—with a single query. OneDOJ is part of the department’s Law Enforcement Information Sharing Plan (LEISP), which was first released in December 2005. (It should be noted that, in addition to OneDOJ, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) plays a significant role in information sharing by providing grants, guidance, and best practices information to the field.)
R-DEx: The First OneDOJ Storefront
Federal law enforcement agencies have a wealth of criminal history and incident information, as do the local police departments. Technology is now available to allow for two-way sharing of law enforcement information, with each party retaining ownership and possession of its information. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking a leading role in facilitating the sharing of law enforcement information. As part of the OneDOJ approach, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Prisons have been working diligently to pull unclassified case information from their individual systems and place these data into the Regional Data Exchange (R-DEx) system for sharing with our partners at the local level.
The first pilot for the OneDOJ information sharing approach began in August 2005 when the connection between R-DEx and Washington State’s Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) went live. R-DEx provided federal law enforcement investigative reports, witness interviews, criminal event data, and criminal histories to LInX participants that included the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Washington State Police, and local police agencies from Seattle and other Washington cities and counties. Since that time, the Department of Justice has launched an additional R-DEx partnership with the San Diego area’s Automated Regional Justice Information System. Furthermore, R-DEx has been used to facilitate information sharing in Saint Louis, Missouri, and Jacksonville, Florida. DOJ is working to expand R-DEx information sharing to other communities across the United States in the next few years.
DOJ’s approach allows different technology solutions in different regions to use a standard interface and agreed-upon policies to enable trusted and secure sharing among partners. The pilot efforts have proven that this approach works. The department’s partners in Seattle and San Diego can point to specific cases where data from the local system, combined with data from the federal system, led to arrests.
R-DEx is not the only information sharing project at DOJ. For example, the department participates in fusion centers such as the one operated by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF, set up in 1982, is a multiagency partnership among federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors to identify and target national and international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The partnership, which includes the department’s law enforcement components and its Criminal and Tax Divisions, has designed its own data warehouse to automate and use the classified investigative information they share.
DOJ is also working on the construction of the National Data Exchange (N-DEx), which is another law enforcement information sharing system that will collect and correlate criminal incident reports from federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies across the United States. The N-DEx system will provide law enforcement (and other federal agencies) with a comprehensive (nationwide) view of crime across the country in a timely and practical way. N-DEx will be accessible to U.S. law enforcement agencies via Law Enforcement Online and will contain only the structured data and summary level details. The N-DEx program has drawn widespread support from state and local law enforcement, including formal endorsement by the four major law enforcement associations (the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, and the National Sheriffs’ Association). The contract to implement N-DEx is scheduled for award in the second quarter of fiscal year 2007 and N-DEx will be operational 12 to 18 months after the award.
N-DEx complements the R-DEx system and will serve communities that may not have immediate access to R-DEx. Much of the data is the same, but the use of the systems and the method of accessing the systems are different. Those jurisdictions with access to both systems can use N-DEx to find a connection or link, and then use R-DEx to dive down into details (unstructured data). For those agencies with only N-DEx, they will at least be able to connect with another officer to compare notes and connect dots. This two-pronged strategy is necessary to support the diverse needs of law enforcement across the United States to fight crime and prevent terrorist activities at the same time.
Many of these information sharing systems rely on the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), an information exchange technical standard that leverages the work done by DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and by law enforcement and justice agencies from all levels of government in developing the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM). The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security used GJXDM as the basis for developing NIEM, with the goal of creating a data standard that would allow them to share information with each other and their communities of interest without having to change their separate data terminology or develop separate interfaces.
The Information Sharing Environment
The LEISP program is also important outside the law enforcement arena, as the practices and systems used in law enforcement are key drivers in larger, national information sharing initiatives such as the Information Sharing Environment (ISE). The ISE is being created to support the recommendations in the report of the 9/11 Commission and other studies that have been critical of the way that the federal government shares terrorism information. It is not an information technology (IT) system but an environment of procedures, policies, guidelines, rules, standards, and approaches that will be put in place to make it possible for government at all levels to share terrorism-related information effectively. DOJ has been actively involved in all aspects of developing the ISE:
- Defining common standards (including the adoption of NIEM across all agencies)
- Developing a common technology framework
- Standardizing procedures for defining sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information
- Protecting privacy rights
The Implementation Plan for the Information Sharing Environment, available from www.dni.gov/press_releases/ISE-impplan-200611.pdf, explains the challenge of sharing and how policy and practices will change as the federal government improves its ability to share with state, local, and tribal partners. The document is focused on sharing terrorism-related information, but it is difficult to separate common crimes from those with a nexus to terrorism. The Department of Justice is committed to supporting the sharing of information about both terrorism and common criminal activities, and its systems must be designed to support an all-crimes approach.
How will local, state, and tribal agencies protect the federal information that is shared with them? The president, in his Guidelines and Requirements in Support of the Information Sharing Environment memorandum of December 2005, called for the standardization of SBU information marking and handling (Guideline 3). Every federal agency is in the process of simplifying and standardizing the way documents are marked so that local law enforcement can know when they can share counterterrorism information with the mayor or the city homeland security manager who may not be a sworn officer. By this summer, DOJ expects the enactment of new policy changes related to safeguards and dissemination rules that will apply to the entire federal government. The president has mandated the change, and an interagency group is working on the best way to accomplish simplification.
Promoting a Culture of Information Sharing
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty recently emphasized the importance of information sharing in a memorandum he sent on December 21, 2006, to all U.S. attorneys and the directors of the law enforcement components in the Department of Justice. He laid out his vision for how information sharing will move forward across a large and complex department and directed the establishment of an LEISP Coordinating Committee that will work with the DOJ’s chief information officer to implement LEISP initiatives in at least 15 additional areas around the United States. McNulty also stressed the importance of protecting privacy and civil rights as agencies expand the interconnection of law enforcement information systems. To accomplish this, DOJ guidelines for all law enforcement sharing initiatives clearly state the following:
- Information must be lawfully collected by law enforcement personnel.
- Information can be shared only with trusted partners under the rules specified in the signed memorandum of understanding.
- Information can be used only for law enforcement purposes and action can be taken only after conferring with the owner of the connected record.
In the coming years, DOJ will work toward aligning the performance evaluation of federal agents and analysts with information sharing. Part of the annual review process should involve a rating for how well the officer or agent shares law enforcement information. In addition, everyone involved should highlight cases that were solved as a result of interconnected databases. Successful marketing of the value will help make a case for increased funding and additional tools. Technology can be a force multiplier, as long as it is introduced in a planned and controlled manner.
How Can Police Chiefs Get Involved?
Information sharing starts locally. Major urban centers around the country all have some type of sharing initiative under way. Some are more mature than others, and some already comply with DOJ technical standards. The Department of Justice will soon roll out OneDOJ/R-DEx. But there are things that can be done now:
- Ensure that your local and regional information sharing effort has strong governance.
- Work with your grant managers to ensure that law enforcement and homeland security are coordinated and can obtain the funding to upgrade systems.
- Comply with the DOJ technical standards (NIEM/GJXDM).
Changes in the way we share information cannot happen overnight. Relevant information is available on the Office of Justice Programs Web site (www.it.ojp.gov) and at www.niem.gov that can help your technical and policy staff members find the resources they need. Federal budgets are tight, and the expansion will happen based on a variety of factors. Risk, threat levels, and regional maturity will influence where the Department of Justice storefronts are opened around the country. DOJ will use the lessons learned from Seattle and San Diego to streamline the connection process. The approach is to remain vendor-neutral and to encourage the use of DOJ technical interface standards. The BJA will continue to assist local law enforcement agencies as they modernize their local systems. Grant conditions from both DHS and DOJ now require the use of NIEM. DHS and DOJ will promote and encourage reuse of the documents and standard procedures from these early sites to simplify the projects in subsequent regions. For example, these systems and the access to them must be audited on occasion. Whether in Orlando or Oregon or somewhere else, the process will be 95 percent the same and the tools and approach can be copied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The only way to prove that systems are safe is to have strong audit capabilities and governance to monitor the results of the security audits.
The Department of Justice is leading the way, and working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation at headquarters and in West Virginia at the Criminal Justice Information Services complex. The department understands that troopers, officers, and analysts want the systems to be easy to use and readily available. That is the department’s goal, but it will work only if the local technology matches up to the federal technology. That is not the responsibility of a chief, but if the people and the vendors who support the chief follow Department of Justice technical standards, the chief’s job will be easier. ■
Editor’s note: Vance Hitch has served as the deputy assistant attorney general and chief information officer of the Department of Justice since April 2002. He is responsible for leading and implementing the acquisition and management of IT across the department. He manages the department’s $2.4 billion IT programs, providing oversight and strategic guidance to the components of the department and the major internal investments that serve the department’s 115,000 employees. Hitch advises the deputy attorney general and the assistant attorney general for administration on the management of IT infrastructure across the approximately 2,000 locations in 500 U.S. cities where the department has assets.
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