Letter to Congressman Reichert: If you want LE information sharing, please aim your pen at a different target
If you want law enforcement agencies to share information, go to the source and help the Chiefs and Sheriffs to push their data in the FBI’s National Data Exchange N-DEx. Trying to impose information sharing with unfunded standards mandates will not work.
As someone who has been in the standards business since 1995, history has proven to me that:
- The business need must drive standards, standards can NEVER drive the business; and
- Trying to SELL the business on standards is a losing strategy.
Hi Congressman Reichert,
You won’t remember me, but a long time ago we were in meetings together in Seattle with the likes of John McKay, Dave Brandt, Scott Jacobs, Dale Watson, and others working on building the Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX); I was the technical guy on the project, working with Chief Pat Lee and our very dear lost friend Julie Fisher (may she rest-in-peace, I sure miss her).
A hell of a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then–it’s been nearly TWELVE YEARS. If we look back over this time, we have had so many bills, laws, strategies, policies, papers, speeches, conferences, proclamations, and other assorted attempts to prod law enforcement data loose from the nearly 18,000 agencies across our country. While we are far better off than we were back then, I think we can agree that we still have a long way to go.
Where we differ, I’m afraid, is in the approach to get there – a few days ago, you proposed legislation, the Department of Justice Global Advisory Committee Authorization Act of 2013, as a means to improve information sharing among law enforcement agencies - do we really believe another ”stick” will work to get agencies to share information? Do we really believe it’s a technology or data standards problem that’s preventing law enforcement data from being shared? As a technologist for 34 years, and someone who has been involved in law enforcement information sharing since the Gateway Project in St. Louis, MO in 1999, I can tell you it is neither.
While I applaud the work of the GAC, and I have many colleagues who participate in its work, I’m afraid having more meetings about information sharing, developing more standards, approving more legislation, and printing more paper will NOT help to reach the level of information sharing we all want.
Instead, I want to propose to you a solution aimed at capturing the commitment of the men and women who can actually make law enforcement information sharing happen, and virtually overnight (metaphorically speaking) – namely, the great men and women who lead our police and sheriffs departments across America.
Now to be fair, many of these agencies are already contributing their records to a system I am sure you are familiar with called the National Data Exchange (N-DEx). Built by the FBI CJIS Division, this system has matured into a pretty respectable platform for not only sharing law enforcement information, but also for helping cops and analysts to do their respective investigative and analytic work.
Now, in case you are wondering, I do not own stock in any of the companies that built N-DEx, nor has the FBI signed me up as a paid informant to market N-DEx. I write to you on my own volition as a result of my nearly six years of volunteer work as a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) Committee.
About two years ago I volunteered to lead a small sub-group of the committee who have either built, led, or managed municipal, state, federal, or regional information sharing systems. Our charge was (and still is) to help CJIS take a look under the hood of N-DEx to see what’s in there (data wise) and to help figure out what needs to be done to make it a more effective tool to help cops across America catch more criminals, and maybe, just maybe, even prevent criminals from acting in the first place.
While our work is far from done, I can tell you that one thing we need is more data – as you well know, be it N-DEx, LInX, RAIN, or any other information sharing system, it is only as good as the data that’s put into it.
Believe it or not we already have the data standards in-place to get the data into N-DEx. CJIS has developed two Information Exchange Packet Descriptions (IEPDs) that tells agencies exactly what to do and how to format and package up their data so it can get to N-DEx. Additionally, CJIS has an extensive team ready to assist and my colleagues over at the IJIS Institute hold training sessions sponsored by BJA, to help agencies along the process (NIEM training).
These two IEPDs can help law enforcement agencies today to share the following law enforcement records:
- Service Call
- Missing Person
- Warrant Investigation
- Pre-Trial Investigation
- Pre-Sent Investigation
- Supervised Release
So what’s the hold up? Speaking only for myself, and I will be very straight with you, I believe the root cause for not getting more law enforcement data into N-DEx is the current piecemeal, politically charged, hit and miss grant funding process that the Act you propose, if passed, will burden even further – see page 3, lines 17-25 and page 4, lines 1-6.
Instead, I ask that you please answer the following question…
If law enforcement information sharing is important enough to push though a Public Act, where is the nationwide project, with funding, to get all shareable law enforcement data loaded into the one system that would give ALL law enforcement officers and analysts access to collective knowledge of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies?
The immediate answer might be “we already have one; N-DEx;” however, N-DEx is only a piece of the answer…it’s as they say, “one hand clapping.” And in all fairness to my friends and colleagues at the FBI CJIS Division, that program was only charged and funded to build the N-DEx bucket, they were never funded to actually go get the data to fill the bucket.
The strategy, for whatever reason back then, was relegated to a ”build it and they will come” approach, that IMHO has not worked very well so far and may take another 5-10 years to work. I should also note that the bucket isn’t totally empty…there are quite a number of agencies and regional projects, like LInX, that have stepped up and are helping to fill the bucket – however, if we want to expedite filling up the bucket, focusing on mandating more standards is not the answer
What I submit is the “other hand clapping” is the need for a shift focus, away from policy, standards, and technology, and establish a funded nationwide project that will offer a menu of choices and support packages to the Chiefs and Sheriffs that will enable them to start sending as many of their shareable records as possible to N-DEx.
Some of the options/support packages could include:
- Provide direct funding to agencies and regional information sharing systems to develop N-DEx conformant data feeds to N-DEx;
- Grant direct funding to RMS and CAD system providers to develop N-DEx conformant data feeds from their software, with the stipulation they must offer the capability at no additional cost to agencies that use their products;
- Establish a law enforcement data mapping assistance center, either bolted on to IJIS NIEM Help Desk, as an extension of NLETS menu of services, or through funding support at an existing information sharing project like the Law Enforcement Technology, Training, & Research Center who works in partnership with the University of Central Florida.
At the end of the day, we all know that the safety and effectiveness of law enforcement is greatly affected by the information he or she has at their fingertips when responding to that call.
Do you really want to leave it to chance that that officer’s life is taken, or a criminal or terrorist is let go because his or her agency wasn’t “lucky enough” to win the grant lottery that year?
So, let’s empower the single most powerful force that can make sure the information is available - the Sheriff or Chief leading that agency. Let’s stop with the unfunded mandates, laws, standards, studies, point papers, etc., and let’s finally put a project in-place with the funding necessary to make it happen.