The National Data Exchange (N-DEx): A Leader in Information Sharing
By Jeffrey Fisher, M.S., and Nicole Lemal-Stefanovich
Owned and operated by the FBI, the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) system became operational in 2012. Its mission is to provide a free, accessible, and intuitive online tool for law enforcement to share, search, link, and analyze information across jurisdictions.
N-DEx is an electronic repository of unclassified criminal justice records submitted by agencies nationwide. It enables users to piece together seemingly unrelated data about people, places, and things and facilitates collaboration among agencies and investigators. Bridging and filling the gaps across traditional jurisdictional boundaries, N-DEx has proven to increase situational awareness, provide investigative leads, and help solve cases.
This database provides interagency access to unique data located in incident report narratives. Narrative information can be critical in investigations as it may shed light on additional associates, locations, or witnesses of a crime. The information, not formatted but still potentially useful, includes pictures, drawings, handwritten notes, or witness statements.
Other interactions relating to an investigation, such as inmate telephone call records, meetings between agencies to discuss a case, police impound records, and protection orders, can be recorded and shared in N-DEx as well. N-DEx has a keyword search feature that works like a search engine platform, combing through the database and returning all records containing the queried keyword(s).
The FBI’s Data Sharing Services Unit (DSSU) manages operational and strategic oversight of N-DEx. Its unit chief indicated that multijurisdictional access is an important feature for users and potential users, stating, “We really focus on the importance of national information sharing. The ability to share information across jurisdictional boundaries is so critical to the law enforcement and information sharing realm. N-DEx tells me the rest of the story and allows me to connect the dots on data association that I would not have known otherwise.”
Jeffrey Fisher is a writer-editor with the FBI's Law Enforcement Engagement Unit.
Nicole Lemal-Stefanovich is a quality assurance examiner with the FBI’s Quality and Process Improvement Unit.
A screenshot of the N-DEx interface.
Access to data from across the nation is critical to the law enforcement community, and N-DEx helps make sense of the data returned. Continual technical enhancements improve the efficiency and precision of search results, including more clearly indicated relationships between people or things. Data is correlated about a subject and produces a more comprehensive profile on an individual. All associated criminal justice records, phone numbers, addresses, known aliases, and images available via N-DEx are populated in one place. A known person result shows a complete profile that often reveals two aliases belonging to the same individual.
A screenshot of the “Known Person” view in N-DEx.
A DSSU supervisor stated N-DEx shines in “last-ditch effort” situations for investigators who seek specific information not available in other widely used systems. The information discovered through the system can be used to conduct additional queries. “N-DEx is more investigative,” the supervisor said. “[Investigators] may search elsewhere and then complete the picture with the unique data located with this system.” Due to the vast amount of information contained within N-DEx and the benefits provided to users, agencies are using it as one of their primary tools for gathering information.
N-DEx is steadily increasing searchable records — soon, the database will reach 1 billion. The data available differs from other well-known FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) databases due to the types of records available. In addition to the unique narrative data housed within N-DEx, other records include incident reports; arrests; missing persons reports; service calls; bookings and incarcerations; pretrial, probation, and parole reports; warrants; citations and tickets; interviews; and field contacts and interviews.
Aside from helping to further or solve investigations, allowing free access to national data, and sharing information across jurisdictions, N-DEx provides analytical tools and time-saving resources, including a batch search capability and the ability to subscribe to alerts for updated information.
Numerous case studies demonstrate how the law enforcement community can benefit from using N-DEx.
In one example, a police department received a concerned call from a woman who had not seen or heard from her sister in several days. Patrol officers arrived at the missing sister’s residence and found her unconscious and injured. They asked the caller for details about her sister’s husband, but she only knew his name. Knowing the victim was minutes away from death prompted one detective to search N-DEx to obtain personal identifiers for the suspect. He found records associated with the husband’s name, criminal histories in multiple jurisdictions, and address information to locate him and obtain an arrest warrant. After initiating surveillance months later, special agents and task force officers found and arrested the husband. He was found guilty of attempted murder and battery resulting in substantial bodily harm, constituting domestic violence.
In another case, an identity fraud situation spanning multiple states was identified after detectives received a complaint involving several stolen identities and a stolen vehicle. One of the detectives correlated the information provided by a local business with the suspect’s email address and financial account. Further, a telephone number connected the social media photographs of the suspect with surveillance footage, prompting the detective to contact a crime information sharing network. An analyst processed the query in N-DEx and discovered an arrest record and booking photo from a police department where the subject was detained. The search also yielded information involving a possible stolen vehicle from a suburb in the Midwest. This information was forwarded to the local law enforcement agency, resulting in additional charges filed against the subject.
“Working with [our system] and the N-DEx system, I was able to verify and confirm the identity of the suspect and current location,” the assigned detective said. “This information not only cleared my case but a case of a neighboring jurisdiction as well. Both cases were resolved in warrants being issued for the suspect’s arrest while she is incarcerated on unrelated charges. None of this would have likely happened if it were not for the NDEx system.”
Other detectives and agents have also credited the database for solving many cases, particularly in large-scale investigations. One agent stated, “N-DEx played a huge role in uncovering and identifying individuals involved in a multijurisdictional investigation. There are many times when I cannot find personally identifiable information but find it in N-DEx. The investigation is coming to an end and will involve major indictments. N-DEx has been there by my side the whole time.”
“... N-DEx has proven to increase situational awareness, provide investigative leads, and help solve cases.”
More than 8,000 criminal justice agencies are currently contributing information to N-DEx, with new data being added daily. With over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, participation is not even half of total law enforcement participation, and the system could benefit from more agencies providing data. The unit chief of DSSU asks, “How many more crimes would be solved if more agencies submitted data?” He goes on to say, “We’re always looking for data, and our staff provides free technical support to agencies interested in becoming a data submitter.”
Flexible access is available to authorized users via several methods, including the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP), Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS), COPLINK, and the Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX).1 Routine distance learning workshops and a team of dedicated personnel are also available to help agencies get started.
The criminal justice community greatly benefits from the information readily available via N-DEx. For the first time, free of charge, nationwide data is no longer limited by jurisdictional boundaries. Likewise, participating agencies experience organizational and investigative benefits from accessing the data available in N-DEx and sharing their information with other departments.
The best way to realize the benefits and demonstrate the effectiveness of N-DEx is by sharing data and searching the database. Successes are reported across the country — the next solved case could be from your agency or department.
“N-DEx played a huge role in uncovering and identifying individuals involved in a multijurisdictional investigation.”
For more information about N-DEx, how to become a data contributor, or how to get started with accessing the system, please contact the N-DEx help desk at (304) 625-0555.
Ms.Lemal-Stefanovich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mr. Fisher at email@example.com.
1 For more information about accessing N-DEx, see “Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services, accessed October 19, 2021, https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/leep; “Regional Information Sharing Systems: A Proven Resource for Law Enforcement,” Regional Information Sharing Systems Program, accessed October 19, 2021, https://www.riss.net/; “Forensic Logic COPLINK: Better Information. Better Decisions. Better Outcomes.,” Forensic Logic, accessed October 19, 2021, https://forensiclogic.com/; and “LInX/D-Dex,” Naval Criminal Investigative Service, accessed October 19, 2021, https://www.ncis.navy.mil/Mission/Partnership-Initiatives/LInX-D-Dex/.