By James T. Bryan, Program Manager, Information Sharing Initiatives, IACP
he daily headlines increasingly deliver bad news about the impact the faltering economy is having on states, counties, and municipalities across the United States. Articles and broadcasts address reductions in police services; the widespread release of prisoners to control incarceration costs; and the work of judicial support workers (such as probation and parole officers) being impacted by furloughs and mileage restrictions. Indeed, a driving issue to today’s law enforcement executive is adjusting to decreasing budgets at every level.
Chiefs, sheriffs, fusion center directors, and prison wardens are exploring every option to control their respective agency funds while continuing their vital work using the tools and resources available to them that are cost-efficient, reliable, acceptable to their staffs, and applicable to their specific disciplines. Often, they seek new or emerging technologies to aid in their efforts to combat crime and terrorism. N-DEx is a force multiplier because it offers investigative help to law enforcement.
The Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx) delivers a no-cost investigative tool to share incident, offense, and correctional data across disparate geographic areas, jurisdictions, and information systems. N-DEx is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Justice Information Services Division (FBI-CJIS) and is widely used by detectives, troopers, analysts, and inspectors. Much of the current success of N-DEx is credited to the FBI-CJIS model of information systems’ shared management, which has proven successful with the National Crime Information Center, the Interstate Identification Index System, and the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System programs. N-DEx is similarly poised to become a legacy program delivered by a distinguished group of technical professionals based in Clarksburg, West Virginia, with the support of the Raytheon Company, which has been the prime contractor engaged in the design, development, and implementation of this web-based software since its inception.
The contractor team was integral to the release in spring 2011 of the third and final increment of N-DEx, which included increased mapping, visualization, and subscription and notification capabilities, as well as the acceptance of incarceration, probation, and parole records. Now fully operational, N-DEx provides tremendous value to the analytical community by providing correlation and analysis to detect crime networks, patterns, and trends. The system provides users with an intuitive interface or dashboard, resembling many commonly seen on the Internet, as well as a host of web services for seamless external access and integration. It has been well received. In fact, the Information and Intelligence Sharing Committee of the IACP State and Provincial Police Division, an influential group comprising key state police superintendents, resolved that they “believe that a national data sharing system is essential and [they] support N-DEx as that system.”1 Similar endorsements have come from the IACP Executive Board, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association.
Though state policing agencies and major metropolitan police departments were among the first to embrace N-DEx, the use of this tool has spread to suburban, rural, and tribal agencies that are increasingly reporting success attributable to their use of the system. In a key effort to expand the use of N-DEx, the IACP, in partnership with the FBI, designed and is delivering a national educational outreach program. The program has been well received by smaller agencies, as it provides a no-cost data exchange tool that is continuously operational and allows inquiries to be made on common searches such as people, places, vehicles, and crime types. Examples of other available niche data queries include files on Federal Firearms Licenses, taxpayer identification numbers, and telephone logs from several contributing federal penitentiaries and jails.
Texas and Kansas are examples of two state contributors of information in which small, rural offices far outnumber larger agencies. Chief Bart Moore of the Mount Hope, Kansas, Police Department, an agency of two full-time and three part-time officers, said, “As a small farming community and microagency, we lack the funding mechanisms to support the acquisition of sophisticated records management systems or to pay for subscriptions for shared information. N-DEx is a tool that we can use to access not only state records but other records from across the country. It is a great tool for this small agency, and I encourage others to use it.”2 In fact, it should be noted that law enforcement and eligible criminal justice personnel can search and use services and capabilities at no cost, regardless of whether an agency is submitting data. The FBI can sometimes provide a measure of technical support to agencies interested in contributing records to N-DEx when assistance is needed in data mapping, conversion, or both. The level and scope of assistance depends on the needs of the agency, the resources available, and the substantive contribution of the data.
The N-DEx system was deployed incrementally, consistent with functional, operational, and technical priorities to allow for additional capabilities and user input with each release. The myriad data sets and diverse demands of eventual system customers created a demand for a unique information technology architecture, which Raytheon delivered while adhering to the National Information Exchange Model. These strict controls ensure that the sharing of data takes place in a secure environment, in accordance with applicable law and FBI-CJIS policies, and have allowed N-DEx to mature into a dynamic, flexible, and readily accessible records entry and retrieval system for the nearly 18,000 federal, state, local, tribal, and correctional entities and fusion centers in the United States and its territories. Importantly, N-DEx provides an economical option to collect and share incident and investigative information across regions, jurisdictional boundaries, and differing systems. The improvements now available allow a user to save precious time and effort in the investigative disposition of offenses, pretrial research, and post-release monitoring. N-DEx is becoming a best practice for many who have investigative or analytical responsibilities, truly maximizing their productivity and reducing labor time via integrated or federated searches from a single access point. Currently, there are nearly 130 million searchable records representing 4,354 contributing agencies contained within the system. These records contain information on more than 750 million persons, places, things, and events accessible to investigators and analysts.
In today’s economic environment and with the ever-increasing expectations put upon criminal justice providers, the ability to perform more quickly and with less overall expense is paramount to success. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeffrey C. Lindsey, N-DEx Unit Chief, said “Although sponsored by the FBI, N-DEx highlights the ability of the entire law enforcement community to work together to dramatically improve criminal investigations nationwide through secure, coordinated, and comprehensive information sharing.”3
N-DEx will have a presence at the upcoming IACP Law Enforcement Information Management Conference, May 21–23 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The conference will feature an exposition hall, a learning laboratory, and presentations addressing law enforcement practitioners and the vendor community. Working with solutions providers has been an important component of the N-DEx outreach efforts, and the IACP has worked closely with both the Integrated Justice Information System (IJIS) Institute and state FBI-CJIS systems officers.
The IACP State and Provincial Police Division coordinates the delivery of N-DEx outreach and marketing through its Information Sharing Initiatives Working Group. The partnership is planned to continue through 2013, and subject matter experts are available to visit agencies to assist in the education of employees and the implementation of this worthwhile policing tool. Though few things are free in today’s world, this is one opportunity that is available to police executives with no membership, no operational, and no maintenance costs.
For additional information, visit http://www.theiacp.org/ndex, contact the IACP at 1-800-843-4227, or call the FBI N-DEx Program Management Office at 1-304-625-4242. ■
1The Information and Intelligence Sharing Committee of the IACP State and Provincial Police Division, IACP 2011, Chicago, Illinois, October 22, 2011.
2Mount Hope, Kansas, Police Chief Bart Moore, telephone conversation, December 28, 2011.
3FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeffrey C. Lindsey, email, December 30, 2011.
Please cite as:
By James T. Bryan, "N-DEx Developments Leverage Technology to Deliver Critical Investigative Information to the Criminal Justice Community," Technology Talk The Police Chief 79 (February 2012): 60–61.