XML joins the force

Florida taps exchange model to help police agencies share information

IN THE KNOW: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is using the the National Information Exchange Model to let law enforcement agencies share information across jurisdictions.

Photo by WENN

Law enforcement data is like money, said Mike Phillips, project manager at the Florida Law Enforcement Exchange (FLEX), a statewide data integration project.

Much like money, it has great value but needs to be carefully managed. And governments are struggling to make this currency more liquid.

'It's like our data ' our money ' is locked up in long-term bonds. But we can't afford to wait six months or 12 months to make it liquid,' Phillips said. 'In the criminal-justice world, lives are at stake.'

Florida's situation is not unusual. The state is home to about 400 law enforcement agencies, including city, county and university police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys. All of them have their own budgets, computer-aided dispatch systems and record management systems. The problem was that none of them were connected, he said. 'All of this wonderful information is sitting out there, locked up.'

What Florida's law enforcement community needed was to get better control of its metadata ' the data about the data.

Ready, set, go

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) established eight metadata planners, one for each of the state's seven regions plus one for the Department of Corrections.

FDLE decided to take the plunge into the National Information Exchange Model, an interagency framework for sharing information using Extensible Markup Language, an open standard that allows exchange of information regardless of computer systems or platforms.

NIEM builds on the Global Justice XML Data Model, the law enforcement data standard developed by the Justice Department.

Florida is the first state to use a relational version of NIEM, Phillips said.
FDLE settled on NIE Gateway from Sypherlink. The department liked that it had artificial-intelligence capabilities, Phillips said.

One of the byproducts of the Sypherlink tool is that it is helping Florida develop a statewide data dictionary and a central data warehouse. This has enabled FDLE to do predictive analysis and complicated analytics. 'And frankly, we need automation to do that,' Phillips said.

For example, the automated tools could help FDLE link a man taking pictures of a bridge in Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa in the same week. 'How would you figure that out unless you had tools to do that, to make those connections?' he asked.
FLEX is making the analytic tool available to all 400 law enforcement agencies. Think of it as a Web tool belt, Phillips said. 'Some tools will fall off the belt as they grow out of favor, and new tools will be put on to replace them.'

And there's no shortage of data, he said. Florida has hundreds of law enforcement systems crammed with intelligence and criminal data. 'The problem is, you ask it, 'Show me what you've got on Frank Smith,' and it's literally like trying to drink out of a fire hose.'

FLEX has made Phillips' job easier because he's 'not telling people to throw their toys away. Instead of connecting to 400 agencies, I have one connection to a region.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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