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Back to Archives | Back to August 2009 Contents 

N-DEx Implementation Update: Ready and Able

By Jeffrey C. Lindsey, Chief, National Data Exchange Unit, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clarksburg, West Virginia

A detective in San Diego arrived back at the office after leaving the scene of a homicide. The body, which had been discovered in a remote area by a utility crew, had multiple gunshot wounds. Although a canvas of the crime scene yielded no useful information, a recently issued California state identification card was found on the male victim. With just this information, the detective used his desktop computer to log into the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange
(N-DEx) via his secure Internet link to the Law Enforcement Online system and conducted a search of the victim’s name. Quickly he discovered several incident reports involving the man from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office in West Virginia. Through the narratives, the detective learned that the victim had previous narcotics-related arrests and convictions. One report documented a call for service for a disturbance at the victim’s parents’ residence; that report provided a name for the victim’s next of kin. The detective called the Harrison County investigator listed on the incident report and asked him to perform a death notification and to ask the family for any information they had about the victim’s activities in California.

A short time later, the Harrison County investigator contacted the detective with information from his interview. According to the family, the victim left West Virginia for California a few weeks earlier with a traveling companion he had known from jail. Through an N-DEx query of the companion’s name, the San Diego detective found correlations between the two men and also learned that the dead man’s companion was a parolee from Texas. A return from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) that accompanied the N-DEx search indicated that a parole violation warrant was issued for the companion’s arrest at about the same time the man was known to have left West Virginia for California.

The detective used the information in the parole records to contact the man’s parole officer in San Antonio, Texas. He provided the parole officer with the information at hand and indicated that the parolee was a person of interest in a homicide. The parole officer pledged to intensify his efforts to locate the violator. Less than 24 hours later, the detective received notification from the parole officer that the companion was arrested at a relative’s house. More importantly, the victim’s vehicle and a handgun of the same caliber as the murder weapon were recovered during the arrest. Confronted with questions about his relationship with the victim and their activities in California, the companion confessed to the murder.

n March 19, 2009, N-DEx celebrated its one-year anniversary as an operational information-sharing system. The scenario depicted here offers an example of the leverage afforded the criminal justice community through the use of this system’s powerful capabilities. In July, the second of three system increments became fully operational, but participating criminal justice entities can already contribute data and search the repository for basic correlations to other agencies’ data.

An Idea Whose Time Had Come

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, it was painfully obvious that a meaningful, nationwide information-sharing system had to be created for use by criminal justice entities. From that tragedy, the concept for N-DEx was born. In August 2005, partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, the IACP, the Major City Chiefs Association (MCCA), the Major County Sheriffs’ Association (MCSA), and the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) produced a position paper that established the underlying tenets for developing N-DEx. Shortly thereafter, the N-DEx concept of operations was developed, and a comprehensive, national approach to information sharing was on the way to becoming a reality.

From its inception, the N-DEx vision has been clear: to share complete, accurate, timely, and useful information across jurisdictional boundaries and to provide new investigative tools that will enhance the ability of the United States to fight crime and terrorism. According to the FBI’s acting assistant director of the CJIS Division, Jerome M. Pender, “The N-DEx vision is to do more than just fill in the information gaps in cases; N-DEx is designed to connect investigators of related crimes in different jurisdictions. This is often done informally on a small scale, but N-DEx will allow this to be done for the first time on a national scale. By logging in to N-DEx, a detective in San Diego can get vital data from, and begin collaborating with, his counterparts in San Antonio and Syracuse on persons or investigations of mutual interest.”

Born of the critical need to share criminal justice information expeditiously in a manner previously unknown, N-DEx has resulted from the realization of partnerships and collaboration across the criminal justice community. In addition to the input and guidance of the five major organizations listed earlier, subject matter experts (SMEs) from various local, state, tribal, and federal criminal justice agencies have been active at every juncture of N-DEx’s development and deployment. SMEs have contributed to the development of the system in such areas as requirements, functionality, training, and auditing. This heightened level of cooperation has been, and will continue to be, essential to N-DEx’s ability to fulfill its mission successfully.

A primary component of N-DEx is its design to integrate and correlate information from existing and future information management systems used by criminal justice agencies. To ensure compatibility, the N-DEx Program Management Office (PMO) conformed the system’s specifications to those established by the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). Since many records management system vendors already incorporate NIEM compliance into their products, the N-DEx Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPD), or submission standard, was built to facilitate the technical translation of information in participants’ records management systems into a format understood by the N-DEx system. In this way, N-DEx minimizes any costs and technical obstacles associated with participation.

For all that N-DEx is, it is not a replacement for other information-sharing systems, an intelligence-sharing system, or a statistical program. N-DEx was not created to replace any local, regional, or statewide sharing systems. It is intended to be a force multiplier for the participants in those systems. Although N-DEx is a secure, Web-based system designed and certified for sensitive but unclassified information, it is not an intelligence-sharing system as defined in terms of national security–related information. It may indeed be useful for all-source analysts working in fusion centers or similar entities, but it is oriented entirely toward criminal justice data. In addition, information submitted to N-DEx for the purpose of information sharing will not be used for statistical purposes. However, National Incident-Based Reporting System data can be submitted through N-DEx. As FBI Deputy Assistant Director Stephen L. Morris, head of the CJIS Policy, Administrative, and Liaison Branch, noted, “N-DEx is not in competition with anyone. Its purpose is to be the thread that binds together the current patchwork of disparate criminal justice information-sharing systems into one that is exponentially more powerful.”

Progress in Implementation

Early on, the decision was made to develop and introduce N-DEx in an incremental fashion to give participants a functional system sooner rather than later. As noted, Increment One was implemented in March 2008. Increment Two deployed in July of this year, and Increment Three will be implemented in the summer of 2010. The incremental strategy fulfills two purposes. First and foremost, it has enabled users to begin contributing incident report data and searching the shared data for basic correlations, analyses, and visualization. At this point, users can also obtain information from DOJ agencies through N-DEx’s initial integration with the OneDOJ system. The phased approach also provides the N-DEx PMO, the SMEs, and the system’s principal contractor, Raytheon, with an opportunity to identify opportunities for improvements and incorporate them in the subsequent increments.

The incremental strategy will ultimately fulfill the N-DEx concept of capturing and sharing the full life cycle of criminal justice information. The focus of Increment One was incident report data. Increment Two adds incarceration and booking data, and Increment Three will target probation and parole data.

A cornerstone of the N-DEx system is the flexibility of its sharing policy regarding contributor-owned data submissions and updates. To accommodate the varying privacy laws and policies across the United States, contributors are able to determine the level of access to their information afforded to other N-DEx users. For example, records can be designated as “Green” and provided to all users. They can also be designated as “Yellow” and serve as pointer-based records. In these instances, other users are provided points of contact at the contributing agency who can provide additional information. Finally, in a limited set of circumstances, contributors can designate their information as “Red.” This hides the record from other users but provides the contributor with opportunities for correlations with other records in the system. Obviously, the goal is to share as much information as possible and to restrict access only minimally. Fortunately, with N-DEx, sharing is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Contributors can tailor their sharing policy to a specific portion of a record as required and still fully share the rest. One example would be a requirement to designate as Yellow or Red juvenile identifiers in a report while allowing the bulk of the information to be designated as Green.

Current N-DEx participants include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the States of Delaware, Nebraska, and Oregon; the U.S. Bureau of Prisons; Harrison County, West Virginia; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the FBI; the Oneida Indian Nation; the U.S Air Force Office of Special Investigations; Hampton Roads LInX, Texas; and California’s Incident Reporting Information System and Automated Regional Justice Information System.

In addition to bringing more participating agencies on board and collecting incarceration and booking data, the newly deployed Increment Two provides three applications that will truly enhance the system’s usefulness. Instead of relying on a user-initiated search of N-DEx, the automatic correlation feature seeks to match an entity’s newly submitted data with those already in the system and notify both contributors of the linkage. Subscription and notification enable users to enter a person, place, or thing of interest into the system. Thereafter, as N-DEx is continually updated, users will be notified whenever a match is made to their standing queries. Geovisualization enables users to graphically display information on a map. Users can now also search for results geospatially and perform “hot spot” crime analysis. This feature greatly enhances N-DEx’s versatility. In addition, Increment Two takes N-DEx from its 8 a.m.–5 p.m. functional status in Increment One and makes it available 24 hours a day.

The Best Is Yet to Come

Increment Three will make probation and parole data available to N-DEx’s established and new users. The integration of OneDOJ into N-DEx will be completed, and the search function will be enhanced. N-DEx will also incorporate more robust crime analysis capabilities. An application allowing correlation of incidents and cases will even assist users in linking patterns of crimes. Finally, any functional issues identified in the first two increments will be addressed as N-DEx is advanced to its full operational capacity of 200,000 users and over 800 million records. FBI Section Chief Robert C. Rudge of the CJIS Intelligence, N-DEx, and Global Operations Section observed, “One of the strengths of N-DEx is that it will provide in minutes to its users information and leads that used to take days or weeks to develop. It will also help reduce substantially investigative ‘rabbit trails’ by correlating people, places, and things at the stroke of a key.”

The world is not static. As is the case with all CJIS systems, when N-DEx is declared fully operational around the fall of 2010, progress will not stop. Although N-DEx will continue to be a collaborative effort between the CJIS Division and its partners across the criminal justice community, new partnerships will be forged. The latest technologies and functionalities will be applied to the system as is appropriate. David Gavin, assistant chief of the Administration Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, sums up the future of N-DEx succinctly: “Very quickly, N-DEx will demonstrate its value as another member of the CJIS family of systems and we will come to view it in the same manner as we view NCIC, III [Interstate Identification Index], and IAFIS [Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System]—as a key part of a national infrastructure for law enforcement effectiveness and as a reliable resource that we use everyday to help us fulfill our core mission of public safety.” ?

IACP Partners with FBI for N-DEx Outreach

In another key effort to expand the use of N-DEx, the IACP, in partnership with the FBI, is designing and will be delivering a national-scope communications and educational outreach program. This program will be designed to facilitate frontline awareness and use of N-DEx. To enhance crime-fighting efforts, it is essential for state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to prioritize information sharing. For this reason, the principal goal of the joint IACP-FBI effort is to discuss openly with law enforcement executives the foundation beneath and benefits to implementing the N-DEx system.

For more information about N-DEx, readers can visit



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 8, August 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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