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April 26, 2011
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

The FBI’s N-DEx helps connect the dots

Sypherlink helps agencies format data for N-DEx

Few cops solve cases alone. We’re dependent on the assistance and wisdom of others to add information, eyes, and effort to the business of crime-fighting. Knowing that, it’s a sad truth that law enforcement agencies do a less-than-stellar job of talking to each other and sharing information. The FBI’s N-DEx network is intended to remedy that problem.

Boiled down to the basics, N-DEx is a massive database of information contributed by law enforcement and corrections agencies at all levels across the United States. It’s your own agency’s records system, writ large and paralleled with that of all the other participating agencies in the country. Departments submit information on people, places, property, crimes, dates and so on, and it then becomes available to all the participating organizations.

Control and ownership of the data remains with the agency that submitted it.

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Here is a fictitious example of an N-DEx-based scenario, taken from the FBI’s website:

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) contacts the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) about suspicious automobile insurance claims. NICB reports that member insurance companies paid out claims eight times over the past three months to members of one family at the same address (300 South First Street, Muleshoe, Texas). All claimed they were victims in two-car collisions.

N-DEx identifies the address as being the address of Mike Sullivan, a victim in multiple police reports, including a burglary report, two stolen vehicle reports, and a pedestrian hit-and-run accident. Using N-DEx’s search capability, the user finds similar victim reports involving another member of the family, Bob Sullivan, at different addresses in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Additionally, N-DEx identifies Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports in which Bob Sullivan uses an address of 200 North Second Street, Muleshoe, Texas. N-DEx links this new address to multiple fraud investigations by the Bailey County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO).

As a result of the N-DEx ability to identify, correlate and share information between TDPS, NICB and BCSO, police were able to identify a second Sullivan family member involved in similar fraud in Oklahoma and Louisiana, which led to the opening of an investigation of the Sullivan family in three different states.

One of the obstacles to sharing data between agencies is and continues to be the lack of a standard records system. Records Management System (RMS) software has remedied that problem to a very limited degree. Two agencies that use the same RMS can share data more easily, but every department configures their RMS a little differently, and there are lots of RMS vendors out there. N-DEx requires that data be submitted in a form defined in the N-DEx Information Exchange Package Documentation (IPED). The IPED specifies how information is mapped and formatted to various data fields so that a surname submitted by the Cowchip Police Department will be in the same place as a last name from the Nowhere County Sheriff’s Office. Having consistent data standards is critical to the system’s operation and effectiveness.

To aid agencies in mapping this data to IPED standards, Sypherlink offers an interface to many RMS packages. Their basic solution is the N-DEX Appliance, which maps the user agency’s records to a format ready for transfer to N-DEx. A tool like this has the potential to save many man-hours of labor in tweaking and debugging the mapping schema. An additional tool, the DEx Toolkit, is a supplement to the N-DEX Appliance. It is intended to facilitate the sharing of information across local, regional and state jurisdictions. Some agencies do not participate in these more localized efforts and won’t need the DEx Toolkit, and they won’t have to pay for it to use the N-DEX Appliance.

N-DEx is a powerful tool agencies can use to leverage their own records information to assist and be assisted by virtually every other law enforcement organization in the country. The Sypherlink products can help departments get their data into shape and put them on the N-DEx map.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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