"Security concerns in a computer-savvy world, lack of a widely adopted set of standard protocols, political boundaries regarding ownership of data and funding issues complicate wider adoption of information exchange," comments Gary Bunyard, president and CEO of Tiburon, a Pleasanton, California, provider of law enforcement management solutions.
The intent of N-DEx is to change that.
"When we approached our stakeholders at the federal, state and local law enforcement levels with the question of whether they want to share their police incident reports, we heard a resounding 'Yes,' " Cuthbertson says. "There is a need and a desire to be able to search and share those basic records."
The multi-year N-DEx project will eventually spawn a set of standards and best practices for agencies and vendors to follow in support of a true national criminal database.
Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, was awarded the $78 million contract to build N-DEx earlier this year. Increment One is due to go on the air with live data early in 2008.
"Agencies will then be able to connect the dots between data and link information across jurisdictions that, at first, appear unrelated," Bunyard says.All aboard
There is virtual unanimity of support from the law enforcement community.
"With respect to using technology to solve crimes, N-DEx is the biggest revolution in policing since NCIC was originally created," says Paul Wormeli, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute. "Investigators in the field will be able to correlate suspects with crimes, find suspects based on M.O. and detect criminal patterns."
National law enforcement organizations, such as the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), have signed off on the N-DEx idea, provided local agency input is included in design planning and adequate federal funding is provided to ensure local participation.
"The IACP supports N-DEx, but it's a complex issue," explains Harlan McEwen, chair of the IACP's Communications and Technology Committee. "There will need to be extensive federal funding so local agencies can access the database."
In a position statement issued early in 2007, the IACP and NSA, along with the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriffs' Association, stated they believe strongly the financial cost of N-DEx must be addressed. Without adequate federal funds to support local, tribal and state participation, "the funds being spent on developing the core FBI system will be wasted."Bottoms up
Local funding is critical because the information used to populate the huge N-DEx database comes from the bottom up — from local and state agencies.
"The most prolific way we will get data is to have data pushed from state and local major metropolitan area record management systems (RMSs) into N-DEx," says Kevin Reid, N-DEx Program Manager. "The majority of the data will be pushed to us into one big central database hosted by the FBI."
Centralization of data is a favorite federal tactic. N-DEx is essentially the next generation of the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), an early federal attempt to centralize certain types of information useful in analyzing crime trends.
"NIBRS wasn't as successful as anticipated, in part because it was extremely tedious and time-consuming to complete NIBRS-compliant police incident reports," says Chicago attorney Wil Nagel, a former policy analyst for the Illinois Integrated Justice Information System.
N-DEx, however, differs from NIBRS in that no new data is to be created, meaning there are no forms to complete. "N-DEx will collect data that already exists," Reid explains. "We're not expecting agencies to create new data — this data already exists in their RMSs."
Nevertheless, the N-DEx centralized architecture is the opposite of successful data sharing models using distributed data sharing schemes rather than one centralized database.Central v. distributed models