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Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX)

 

The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LInX, is a regional information sharing system created, coordinated, and primarily funded by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). It has begun to revolutionize law enforcement in the 21st century.

In today’s digital environment, information is more important than ever for the patrol officers, investigators and crime analysts supporting our communities.

LInX breaks down artificial jurisdictional and technical barriers between municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. This state-of-the-art collaborative information sharing program is currently operating in seven regional locations around the U.S.: Washington / Oregon; Hawaii; New Mexico; Gulf Coast, Texas; Florida / Georgia; Hampton Roads and Richmond, VA; and the Washington, DC, region. Three additional LInX regions are being prepared for deployment in 2008: Southern California, North Carolina, and a Department of Defense (DoD) Data Exchange for the DoD Criminal Investigative Organizations.

According to NCIS statistics, nearly 500 law enforcement agencies are using LInX in their daily routines, and more than 20,000 law enforcement professionals have been trained in and are employing LInX to achieve investigative and operational successes. Hampton Roads law enforcement agencies alone query LInX more than 100,000 times each month.

There are many important factors contributing to the success of LInX. This is a federally funded and regulated program, with complete ownership by the participating agencies. Ease of access and retrieval of the data makes this an officer-friendly information tool. But the most compelling outcome, and success, is that bad guys (and women) are identified and ultimately go to jail more quickly after a crime is reported.

Dozens of success stories are posted every day across America. Every street cop and investigator knows that the faster a criminal goes to jail, the fewer crimes will be committed. With millions of records now available across jurisdictional lines at the fingertips of patrol officers, investigators and analysts, the identities, relationships, and current and past histories of the suspects are now pulled together in a single screen. Coupled with analytical tools like free-text search and link analysis, formerly unrelated information from pocket trash to task force operations are combined in a usable and actionable format.

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Having current information available at the street level has enhanced officer safety and the ability to solve crime, fight terrorism and protect strategic assets. The ability to instantly retrieve relevant data on people with whom the officer is in contact or is about to contact—data contributed by other law enforcement professionals who have had histories with the subject—is making our law enforcement environment safer each day. Tactics and strategies can be developed and approached from a position of greatly improved knowledge of the subjects, their potential locations, associates, vehicles and past habits.

Those with more than 30 years of experience remember the frustration in closing cases committed by career criminals who routinely crossed jurisdictional lines. Their identities, relationships, addresses and accomplices were included in law enforcement files and records in neighboring agencies. But the time and effort required to find the information, if it indeed could be retrieved, was challenging at best, more often impossible.

Now that data from arrest and incident records, investigations, traffic reports, computer-aided dispatch data, booking records, warrants, field interviews, and other key law enforcement data sources is available automatically, the probability of solving crimes and incarcerating criminals has improved dramatically.

Officer M.C. Burnham of the Norfolk, VA, Police said, “LInX has been a godsend for a patrol officer like me. We have the system running in our cars and are able to look up police involvements on anybody at a moment’s notice. The open-ended search has been very helpful (in getting) me information on individuals for minor crimes that I handle as well as being able to provide accurate data for reports that go on to the detective unit. LInX has also helped me with officer safety; I can be clued into any violent tendencies, crimes, or weapons involvement the subject may have.”

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the intelligence community has accelerated the use of technology with great success. The keys to success, although technologically driven in most formats, are the quality and quantity of data and the openness of sharing that data with “communities of interest.” That concept is at the core of LInX.

Another critical success factor of LInX is the executive-level relationships and strategies that have evolved. Police chiefs, sheriffs, special agents-in-charge and directors of law enforcement agencies at all levels actively participate in the strategic decision making required to implement this program across jurisdictional boundaries. Solid governance and collaboration between law enforcement executives have resulted in trusted partnerships within the regions and with their federal law enforcement peers.

All legally sharable structured and unstructured data—federal, state, county and local—is included in each system with a balance between usability and security. Because LInX is built upon a data warehouse Web services model, agency executives can feel secure knowing that they control all aspects of the data they decide to share within their LInX region.

The LInX technology is platform independent in that it incorporates virtual “front porches” to which the cooperating agencies can publish and share the data they choose. Each agency decides which data it will share and can choose among flexible options for implementing a front porch in concert with its current network infrastructure. The entire infrastructure is invisible to users who query all available, shared data with a standard Web browser as if it were a single system. In addition, for added security and control of legacy system workload management, legacy systems can be completely isolated from the LInX system if desired.

LInX provides comprehensive, proven and certified DoD-level security capabilities and features originally designed for sensitive defense and intelligence agencies. The users are categorizing LInX as “mission critical,” and NCIS is continually obtaining feedback from its users in order to integrate additional functionality. What started four years ago as a “science project” partnership between NCIS and Northrop Grumman has emerged as state-of-the-art in law enforcement data-sharing tool used across the United States.

As success stories concerning the use of this valuable information-sharing tool continue to be reported, new and emerging organizational relationships have been and are being formed to fight crime and prevent terrorism. For the past two years, LInX Northwest (Washington / Oregon) has successfully shared municipal, county and state law enforcement records with five key Department of Justice investigative agencies through the “One DOJ” information-sharing program.

NCIS developed a secure Web service interface between LInX Northwest and One DOJ, permitting local / county officers and detectives to conduct queries of law enforcement information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals. In return, special agents and analysts from each of these Justice Department components can query records from nearly 200 agencies between Portland, OR, and Seattle and Yakima, WA.

Law enforcement officers at all levels are solving cases more efficiently and more effectively through LInX. In 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began sharing open and closed investigative files with the LInX Northwest and One DOJ programs. ICE personnel were successful in resolving a significant money laundering investigation as a result of this information collaboration.

The days of “information is power” or “my information, my case” are behind us as a law enforcement community. The tragic events of 9/11 and subsequent violent assaults in our high schools and universities across the nation prove more than ever that we, as a law enforcement community, are interdependent. We must move to a new paradigm, one that is characterized by willingly and necessarily sharing information, cases and records with each other. The criminals and terrorists who attack the citizens who we are sworn to protect exploit our jurisdictions and borders to their advantage. It is time that we take that advantage away from them through prudent, secure and responsible law enforcement information sharing.

LInX is a proven operational capability in those regions where it has been deployed. LInX and similar information-sharing initiatives must be encouraged by executive law enforcement leadership, and institutionalized in the same way that we have become dependent upon fingerprinting and DNA analysis.

Michael Dorsey is the assistant director for the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and Douglas Smith is the LInX program manager for Northrop Grumman Corp. Photos by Patrick Buice

Published in Law and Order, Jul 2008

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