The FBI’s National Data Exchange (N-DEx)
By Kasey E. Wertheim, M.B.A., and Kelly Badgett
On February 4, 2015, a traffic stop in South Carolina began like any other until the sergeant who pulled over the motorist found that the subject had a suspended Tennessee driver’s license. Another officer arrived to assist the sergeant and checked the driver’s information through the South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, which revealed another suspension. In addition, the officer located five pages of negative history pertaining to this individual, indicating a habitual offender with multiple suspensions.
Based on this information, the officer decided to use a mobile device to check the FBI’s newest system, the National Data Exchange (N‑DEx). Although checks made through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and Interstate Identification Index (III) returned no additional red flags, N‑DEx provided four outstanding local warrants. The officer found contact information for the record-owning agency in N‑DEx and called the captain of that department, who was glad the subject had been located and initiated the extradition process to a county detention center. Had it not been for N‑DEx, the officer would have issued just a citation and released the driver.
This story demonstrates the speed and ease of sharing data in the 21st century. While conducting their duties, law enforcement and criminal justice professionals no longer must rely on limited information that is time-consuming to access. Instead, a vast amount of data is available readily through N‑DEx, which employs the same Web browsers used by the public to search the Internet.
Incident and case reports; arrest reports; missing-persons data; service calls; booking and incarceration information; pretrial, probation, and parole reports; misdemeanor warrants; citations and tickets; and field contacts and interviews are available at the fingertips of today’s police officers. This data is accessible 24 hours a day, every day of the year to authorized professionals with N‑DEx accounts.
N-DEx became operational in 2008, and its capabilities continue to expand. In 2010 new features—full text search, subscription and notification capability, enhanced link visualization, geo-visualization tools, and collaboration abilities—were added. After these developments the N-DEx office added the “integrated person entity view,” which provides the capacity to conduct batch queries and the capability for state criminal justice information services systems officers (CSOs) to better manage personnel, audits, and training requirements. Future builds will increase and enhance the system’s capacity to meet the needs of today’s criminal justice professionals.
Ms. Badgett is a communications team specialist in the FBI’s National Data Exchange Program Office in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
N‑DEx is more than a search-and-retrieval system—it can determine associations between seemingly unrelated entities. It correlates an organization’s information with records from other contributing agencies. This enables investigators to easily obtain all data associated with an individual and view the relationships in the form of a link diagram.
The geo-visualization feature permits users to set search parameters that restrict queries by geographic area. A batch query option enables investigation of thousands of records at a time. Collaboration sites provide authorized users the option to share files of any size or type across traditional jurisdictional boundaries.
N‑DEx contains records from local, state, tribal, and federal agencies. “N-DEx was one of the FBI’s answers to the 9/11 Commission’s report calling for greater information sharing between all levels of law enforcement. The men and women in the program office are proactively engaging more...agencies to further improve participation with N‑DEx for obtaining more data, as well as increasing usage of the system.”1
The FBI’s Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP) affords access to N‑DEx. LEEP provides the system as a service, similar to the Regional Information Sharing System and the National Gang Intelligence Center. The FBI bears the full cost of system development and maintenance and does not charge fees to agencies for access or data integration assistance.
After criminal justice professionals apply for and receive admission to LEEP, they can request use of their state’s N‑DEx Special Interest Group (sub-SIG). This prompts a vetting-and-approval process by state CSOs. Once authorized, individuals can click on the N‑DEx icon from LEEP and access the default “simple search” screen where they can conduct keyword searches. However, for a more targeted quest, users can enter a name and another identifier, such as a birth date or social security number, and N‑DEx will return all records in the system associated with that particular person. Search options include specific items, such as vehicle information, phone numbers, locations, and crime characteristics.
With so much information readily available to authorized users, N‑DEx has logged numerous successes in information sharing that have led to solved investigations. One prime example won the 2014 N‑DEx Success Story of the Year Award.
A Maryland patrol officer conducted a traffic stop on a truck transporting three storage containers. An NCIC search of the vehicle and driver’s information did not produce any red flags. The officer took the additional step of searching the name on each bill of lading through the Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX), a regional information sharing system funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. Through the partnership between systems, the search generated a query of the N‑DEx system. Within seconds the N‑DEx result indicated that an individual associated with one of the containers was the subject of an ongoing federal investigation. Through subsequent collaboration with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), officers allowed the vehicle to continue to its destination where they intercepted the container’s renter while claiming the contents. Agents found 3,000 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes. They charged the subject, who later was convicted of multiple crimes.
N‑DEx receives data from more than 5,200 agencies. It contains approximately 260 million records and facilitates an average of 50,000 searches per week. As new users become authorized, searches of the system continue to increase, and new success stories indicate the investigative effectiveness of N‑DEx.
As organizations realize the value of incorporating their data in N‑DEx, the system continues to grow. One county sheriff stated, “I get just as much benefit from having my records in N‑DEx as I do from using the system. Investigators from other jurisdictions constantly bump into my investigations and assist us in solving our county’s crimes.”2 This is the reason the N‑DEx Program Office continues to increase agency participation and assist new users with system searches.
In the age of modern policing, it is critical for law enforcement organizations to use as many tools as possible to solve and prevent crime and promote public safety. The National Data Exchange Program is a force multiplier that enables users to access more information in less time. The program office encourages officers and investigators to apply for N‑DEx access and use this valuable tool to extend their reach. The N‑DEx partnership spans all levels of government and jurisdiction. The system helps make the world safer and a tough job easier.
To obtain access to N‑DEx, visit LEEP at http://www.CJIS.gov and complete the online application. If you already have a LEEP account, request N‑DEx access by choosing “Request Access” to your state sub-SIG from the “Services” section of LEEP. For questions or to contribute data to N‑DEx, contact the program office’s help desk at email@example.com. For more information visit https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/n-dex.
For additional information Mr. Wertheim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Ms. Badgett can be contacted at email@example.com.