A FORCE UNITED: Information sharing across law enforcement

In the "Art of War," Sun Tzu says those "whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious." But in the battle against crime and terrorism, unity with the sharing of intelligence has been a challenge for law enforcement. While technology is available to integrate intelligence and add value to the fight against crime, concerns abound over information ownership, security and other variables. These fears have stood in the way of effective intelligence sharing.

Bill Plate, vice president of Enforsys Inc. and former chief of police in the Township of Hanover, New Jersey, believes the apprehension toward information sharing is due to a lack of control. "For example, if I share my system, all of its information is pumped into either a file or regional database," he says. "Many executives don't like the idea of not having or maintaining control — without control many won't be ready to share."

Traditionally intelligence sharing was conducted in a task force environment where there was an immediate need for information. "In that scenario, local relationships and trust can be established," Plate says. "Today, anyone can look at the shared data, and that is a paradigm shift for many people." Plate believes as people see the value of data sharing technology and the ability to control how information flows, attitudes will change and more sharing will take place.

To fully illustrate this shift, it's critical to understand the difference between intelligence and knowledge. The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan defines intelligence as "information that has been analyzed to determine its meaning and relevance." Knowledge pertains to information that is collected but may not necessarily have relevant meaning. In the past this lack of control meant agencies had no way to filter out knowledge that shouldn't be shared.

Dr. Joseph Atick, executive vice president and chief strategic officer of L-1 Identity Solutions, headquartered in Stanford, Connecticut, believes true intelligence sharing soon will be reality due to advancing technology. "Newer technology allows information to be shared without moving the data," he explains. According to Atick, the technology works similar to the Internet where owners of the data control information available for consumption. "This technology will allow the sharing of knowledge without the sharing of data," he explains. "In the past, sharing intelligence has come through consolidating data. Today that is no longer necessary."

According to Sam Roth, executive vice president at Svivot Ltd., agencies need to think beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. Many law enforcement departments focus on local crime, but Roth stresses that today's world crime is multi-jurisdictional, so the more information agencies share, the better off everyone will be. "Technology has to play a role in alleviating these concerns," he says. "Once there is a demand from the ground up, it will be easier for law enforcement to accept knowledge sharing."

Benefits of technology

The challenges are clear, but how has technology changed to solve the problem? In the past the only time information was shared was because of a mandate. Information control now rests in the hands of those who own the data, and client applications add genuine value for those who use them. The following takes a look at what some companies' info sharing technologies provide.

Enforsys. This Roseland, New Jersey-based company offers I-3 Exchange, currently in use by 39 municipalities in Morris County, New Jersey. Multiple user levels allow for various levels of experience. Enforsys will initially set up the program rules based upon meetings conducted with senior-level executives. Once installed, an administrator can create and maintain mechanisms of control and rules for what information can be published right away and what needs to wait for approval. Data can be collected in various forms and JXDM compliant by the system.

Morris County has used the program for 2 1/2 years. The system allows the county to tie records together and facilitates sharing between different offices. For instance, a prosecutor's office may have access to information from a correctional facility to assist with a case. The feedback has been very positive, and more users are being added every day.

Enforsys also recently began running a pilot project in Middlesex County, New Jersey. "We are breaking a paradigm in law enforcement," Plate says. "We need to get these entities in order and then make the connections. Today, we are better off than we were yesterday, but at a pace that only can be maintained if everyone is involved."

Memex. This Vienna, Virginia-based company has been providing intelligence sharing technology to the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC). JRIC uses its Patriarch application, formerly Intelligence Manager. Patriarch offers a repository of intelligent information allowing meaningful information management and control. "For something to be declared intelligent information, it has to have a higher level of scrutiny and be managed in a certain way," says Stephen Daniels, Memex's U.S. manager. "Our application provides organizations with the ability to go through the process of making information intelligent and regulating who gets access to that information."

Patriarch can work with both structured and unstructured data. This ability enables the computer to compensate for user error. For example, if a professional was searching for someone with a certain type of tattoo, but put the information in the wrong field, the program would still find accurate matches for that search.

Memex Analyst performs link analysis and pattern detection taking advantage of the information stored in Patriarch. "An analyst can go down a number of paths, and the application tracks series of assumptions and saves it," he says. "A user can then track things from a different perspective and be able to show the various ways he arrived at a conclusion." This tracking process can be very beneficial in a trial where an officer would need to show how he drew certain conclusions. Daniels continues, with the application you can document the link of Person A to Person B and use that information to connect to Person C.

Memex also has released two modules that deal with data about gangs and confidential informants. "The level of secrecy surrounding confidential informants is huge," Daniels explains. "With a module, the user has complete control over the information to avoid exposure of the informant." That control expands to the finest details. The system can be setup to withhold certain data from the repository, and the owner of the data would know if someone did a search for it. A future expansion will include a federated search ability allowing the Memex system to search other repositories and make query data available.

Svivot. The Newark, New Jersey-based company's SN-Sphere is a platform with components that work together in a JXDM-compatible, client/server environment. On the server end of the system, metadata is collected in a central repository available for searches, lookup and analysis. Once the information is collected, a pre-processing function puts the data in a structure designed to optimize performance for network linkage. "We can analyze billions of records in a short period of time thanks to pre-processing," Roth says. This allows the owner of the data to control the information to be shared.

SN-Sphere's application offers a model builder for analysis, allowing users to create models and links based upon interests. Roth explains the technology "helps resolve greater conflicts." For example, in one database a person reportedly has brown hair but it's listed as blonde in another. "We make a logical entry based upon rules such as Social Security Number, date of birth, etc. to link them together," he explains. Results for analysis are offered as visual charts, grid formats or timeline analysis. SN-Sphere also can do connectivity tests to analyze a connection between two individuals. In addition, the program offers a Teamwork Investigators Desktop that affords users a chance to enter their information into the central database. It also is possible to use the program to make link charts and perform other types of analysis with the tool. "Our technology helps break through many of the challenges," Roth says. "We have a tool that determines what is shared and what is not, and in return, we give them tools that are helpful for their job."

The JRIC's use of Memex's Patriarch is a great example of what is capable today and how intelligence sharing can be successful. Technology has clearly reached the point where it addresses many of the concerns about intelligence sharing. Organizations can choose what information they wish to share. Professionals in the field can use built-in analytical tools to help review important information.

Information sharing helps solve crimes and put criminals away. It's a critical element in beating today's tech-savvy criminals to the punch.

Andrew Langerman is a business and freelance writer who lives in New Jersey. He may be reached at andrew@gotwriter.com.

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