Criminal Negligence: The state of law enforcement data sharing

Nearly seven years after 9/11, information-sharing problems that hobble law enforcement are just beginning to be solved.

1 2 3 Page 3
Page 3 of 3

Brown was an early adopter of N-DEx and is a true believer in the system. If N-DEx had been at full capacity when he was working his drug investigation, he says, "we would have been able to do this in two to three years instead of 20."

Linda Rosenberg, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Criminal Justice Improvement, credits CJIS with doing "a tremendous job" with N-DEx. The state has 1,200 municipal police departments and no central department of public safety, so tying those disparate systems together has sometimes looked like an insurmountable challenge. "Now you don't have to go back and build these data warehouses and totally redo your entire infrastructure," Rosenberg says.

Chicken and Egg

For the system to work, the information needs to flow in both directions. "That's the challenge," says David Gavin, assistant chief of the administration division at the Texas Department of Public Safety, which runs a regional data-sharing network known as T-DEx. "How do you get all of the record management systems in the country to export in that format so that they can participate and not just access [N-DEx]?"

Regional law enforcement networks will want to tie in, but connecting multiple record-management systems will be challenging. To facilitate that, the Office of Justice Programs' Community Oriented Policing Services program at the DOJ last year awarded $159 million in technology grants, with one caveat: Any record management system project is required to be NIEM-compliant.

Moreover, several vendors of record management systems have been mapping law enforcement agency data to the NIEM-standard format free of charge in hopes of getting future upgrade contracts, says Reid.

The DOJ's objective is to have all 20,000 agencies online within three years, but Reid is more optimistic. "By 2009, I think we'll have the majority of the country participating," he says.

That may be enough time to get the major regional information-sharing systems linked up, but Hawkins thinks it will take much longer for the rest of law enforcement community to follow along.

And Brown isn't so sure that things will proceed smoothly. Most record management systems in use by law enforcement are so highly customized that they often can't even share information with other localities using the same software, he says. Integration is expensive.

The federal government set aside $85 million to complete the N-DEx back-end systems and allocated nearly twice as much in grants last year to help state and local agencies update and connect their record management systems. But state and local officials say the federal government needs to spend much more to get everyone's data connected -- a critical step to making N-DEx truly useful.

"I don't believe that there is the federal funding to make it happen," says Hawkins. He notes that $159 million from one grant program last year went to just 37 out of more than 20,000 agencies nationwide. Barring a major increase in federal funding, Hawkins says that it could be 10 years before the majority of agencies are online with N-DEx.

Rosenberg is also doubtful. Despite the $159 million, "the pot of money [from the DOJ] that's used by state and locals for information sharing has been cut by two-thirds," she says. Rosenberg says she worries that without more federal dollars, smaller agencies will simply forgo uploading their own data.

Hawkins also worries about unanticipated integration issues. "There's still a lot of testing to be done as to what NIEM-compliant means" for commercial products, he says.

Reid says mapping data to GJXDM and validating the data isn't that complicated. "All they need is an XML mapping tool," he says.

Wormeli sees a bright future for data sharing in law enforcement. "We have the standards, we have the architectures, and for the first time, the president has created an information-sharing policy," he says. "There's a feeling of collaboration."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 3 Page 3
Page 3 of 3
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon