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Data Sharing – A Necessary Public Safety Tool

Cooperative data sharing is essential for today’s law enforcement demands. Each day, law enforcement officials tackle their jurisdictions’ unique needs and challenges. What each department faces will vary from city to city and state to state. But there is one element all departments and agencies have in common: the critical need for visibility into what is going on in law enforcement around the country. Simply put, the need to share data and information across agencies has never been more important than it is today.

When it comes to keeping citizens safe and mitigating risk, data sharing is what makes everything run more efficiently and smoothly. Without it, data silos get in the way of effective law enforcement efforts and prevents data sharing that enables officers to effectively protect citizens and mitigate risks. Data sharing across multiple agencies can improve coordination and collaboration in addressing crimes and issues that span different jurisdictions.

The transparency provided by data sharing among agencies and with the communities they protect also fosters trust. Improved societal trust with law enforcement not only makes policing easier but also builds relationships that inspire the next generation of law enforcement professionals.

Understanding That Crime Is Borderless

With modern technological advancements, law enforcement agencies have access to many data sources ranging from dashboard camera footage to digital forensic files and electronic records, which generate massive amounts of data daily. This data often contains critical information that could be valuable beyond the agency that collected it. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize interoperability and coordination among divisions, agencies, and municipalities for seamless data sharing. The investigative and prosecutorial processes of criminal activities are typically lengthy and complex, but data plays a crucial role in enhancing their effectiveness. Agencies embracing a collaborative approach to data sharing and analysis are better positioned to address crimes and mitigate risks.

Criminal activities have transcended geographical borders. They are highly mobile and tend to operate transiently, perpetrating crimes in various regions. For example, a criminal act committed in one jurisdiction has significant implications for other jurisdictions, especially in areas that attract high levels of tourism. For instance, when an arrest is made in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it becomes pertinent to obtain actionable information from other locations where the perpetrator may have lived or currently resides. In this context, the timely sharing of relevant data becomes a crucial tool for equipping law enforcement officers with necessary details that can expedite and enhance the effectiveness of their operations.

Recognizing That Shared Data Is the Most Valuable Data

The value of data sharing has come into play in countless high-profile crimes in recent years. For instance, data shared from one agency with another agency hundreds of miles away means local law enforcement officials can immediately gather and access information on factors like criminal history, weapons possession, and other records that give them a profile of the person’s potential for violent crime. There is a pressing need to augment criminal intelligence capabilities, facilitate seamless data sharing among law enforcement agencies, and leverage advanced data analytics techniques to mount an effective response to crime. These tasks should be done in a manner that carefully balances the public’s interests with the data-sharing benefits. This balance involves recognizing the importance of protecting individual rights and privacy while ensuring that law enforcement officials have the tools and information to carry out their duties effectively.

Achieving this balance requires a comprehensive approach that incorporates sound policies and procedures to govern data collection, storage, and usage, as well as robust oversight mechanisms to ensure that these policies are implemented fairly and transparently. Legal and ethical duties require personnel, participating entities, and authorized users to safeguard constitutional civil liberties, rights, and privacy during information sharing. The sharing of this data must always adhere to all applicable federal regulations and policies governing privacy and consumer rights.

A common approach for implementing information sharing is the application of distributed sharing techniques that enable every entity to retain its data while, at the same time, making the data available to other entities via private networks. Since such data can be maintained in various formats by every entity, the Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program Exchange Specification (NIEM) was instituted to transform shared data into a standard format to allow entities to receive and utilize information from several sources.

Criminal activities are not limited to jurisdictional boundaries, and accurate and real-time data availability is crucial for collaborative law enforcement.

The Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) supports countrywide information sharing among law enforcement agencies to fight illicit trafficking of drugs and humans, violent crimes, identity theft, and terrorist activities and advance law enforcers’ safety. RISS was created in 1974 as a reaction to escalating crime and the need for collaboration and secure data sharing. RISS operates a secure cloud and depends on infrastructure to simplify and accelerate communications and data sharing among law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, the National Data Exchange (N-Dex) supports data sharing across tribal, federal, local, state, and regional investigative task forces by placing investigative data on a single platform from various criminal justice agencies in the United States, including incarceration data, incidents and cases, parole or probation, and booking information. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security established the Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service (LEIS Service), which includes 489 agencies to cover all the United States’ critical geographical areas.

This valuable data, shared across jurisdictions, can help officials develop strategies to apprehend serial criminals who commit crimes in multiple places. Crime data and public records assist law enforcement in getting the big picture of offenders’ lives – their family, friends, gang connections, and other relevant information – to provide a complete view of their records and possibly gain some insight into their behaviors.

Overcoming Challenges That Hinder Data Sharing

The inclination toward nationwide data sharing among professionals in the law enforcement industry is evident. The need for improved information technology, development of standards, and increased information-sharing capabilities among law enforcement agencies has long been established. Data sharing, especially among smaller law enforcement agencies, can be complex and encompass various challenges, including costs, regulations, and IT systems infrastructure.

The case for data-sharing requirements that will enhance the effectiveness of criminal investigations, the challenges and progress made in this area is described in the 2015 Department of Justice Report by John S. Hollywood and Zev Winkleman, “Improving Information-Sharing Across Law Enforcement: Why Can’t We Know?”

In its second annual Law Enforcement Technology Insight Survey, LexisNexis Risk Solutions discovered the motivation among law enforcement officers to share data with other agencies across the country. The survey highlighted that 72 percent of law enforcement professionals preferred nationwide data sharing over regional sharing, an increase from 66 percent in 2019. This increase indicates that there is a growing recognition among law enforcement officials about the benefits of sharing data at a national level, potentially leading to more comprehensive and coordinated law enforcement efforts.

Data-sharing barriers often impede a law enforcement agency’s ability to foster robust collaboration. The LexisNexis Risk Solutions survey respondents also identified several factors that hinder data sharing, with 16 percent citing privacy concerns as a significant challenge. Other factors contributing to these barriers include budget constraints (5 percent), limited IT resources (6 percent), and a lack of cooperation among local agencies (10 percent). For law enforcement agencies to move forward collaboratively, distrust and data silos must be addressed and overcome.

With the rising threat of domestic and international terrorism, achieving national reach is particularly critical. Recent incidents involving radicalized or disturbed individuals targeting police officers highlight the need for effective data-sharing strategies that can help keep such perpetrators at bay. Cross-jurisdictional collaboration can help solve routine crimes and increase chances of identifying and solving bigger crime patterns. Partnership, access to data, and information sharing can help deploy law enforcement resources more effectively.

Equipping Agencies With the Tools They Need

It is only through truly collaborative data sharing that agencies can recognize crime patterns to anticipate events and deploy resources most efficiently. The importance of data sharing in law enforcement cannot be overstated. Criminal activities are not limited to jurisdictional boundaries, and accurate and real-time data availability is crucial for collaborative law enforcement. By establishing a comprehensive national data resource, law enforcement agencies can increase their effectiveness and work toward creating a safer future for citizens.

By breaking down silos and addressing issues of distrust, agencies can collaborate to tackle crime and enhance public safety through the power of data. The future of law enforcement depends on the seamless sharing of information. Working toward this goal to achieve the ultimate objective of creating a safer and more just society must be a priority.

Michael Breslin

Michael Breslin is a retired federal law enforcement senior executive with 24 years of law enforcement and homeland security experience. He served as the deputy assistant director in the Office of Investigations focusing on the integrated mission of investigations and protection with oversight of 162 domestic and foreign field offices. He served as the event coordinator for the National Special Security Event Papal visit to Philadelphia in September 2015 and was appointed by the Secretary of Homeland Security to serve as the federal coordinator for the Papal Visit to the Mexico-U.S. Border in 2016. He is a member of the Senior Executive Service and is a published author of numerous articles on homeland security, defense, and threat mitigation methods. He serves on the Cyber Investigations Advisory Board of the U.S. Secret Service and is a Board Member for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He also serves on the Preparedness Leadership Council. He has a B.A. from Saint John’s University, Queens, NY, an M.S. in National Security Strategy and a Graduate Certificate in Business Transformation and Decision Making from The Industrial College of the Armed Forces; and an MPA from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.



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