System Lets Agencies In Area Share Data

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

In what they called a breakthrough, law enforcement officials yesterday unveiled a computer system that will allow more than 60 state and local police agencies in the D.C. area to share mug shots and crime reports.

The system, Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX), functions like Google for police, except that the database contains law enforcement information.

"We are as excited about LInX as we were about DNA and automated fingerprints," said Arlington Police Chief M. Douglas Scott, one of dozens of chiefs at a news conference.

Before the system came online, police and sheriff's deputies had to call or visit other departments to obtain information on suspects, authorities said.

"It was just sort of fishing in the dark," said Ed Buice, a spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The service launched the system because of concern about possible threats to naval installations and personnel in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

"We need to know what our local [law enforcement] counterparts know if we're going to safeguard this country from terrorism," said Michael Dorsey, a special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who runs LInX.

The $2.7 million spent on the system has come from the naval service and the Department of Homeland Security. Police departments will not have to pay for using the database, officials said.

About 2,000 law enforcement officers in the Washington area use the system, a number that's expected to double by year's end, officials said. The system has about 6 million police mug shots and 14 million crime reports. Starting next year, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security also will participate in the District-area database, officials said.

Similar systems have been set up in six other areas of the United States where the Navy has a presence. Thomas Betro, director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said officials envision eventually having a nationwide system.

Jim Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group, said it made sense for law enforcement officials to use computer systems to share information. He said there has been a profusion of such databases, with little coordination on building one national system.

"Where's the plan? Shouldn't you have a master plan, and shouldn't you know where you're going, and shouldn't you have buy-in from DHS and FBI and DOJ?" he said. "It sounds like they're asking for a turf war, which is the last thing we need."

Betro said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service didn't wait to form a national system with other agencies because "we're able to roll something out much more quickly."

Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said local law enforcement officials realized they needed better information sharing after the 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2002 sniper killings.

"This is a crime-fighting tool that is going to make a difference in this region," said Manger, who previously served as police chief in Fairfax County.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company