Justice needs better IT approach to gang intell, IG says

Justice Department gang unit needs a national information management system, report concludes

A Justice Department intelligence center that is supposed to improve the sharing of information about gangs lacks the necessary information technology tools to achieve its mission, according to Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

In a recent review of the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) the Justice OIG found that, more than three years after NGIC's creation, the center still had not created a comprehensive national gang information repository that fulfilled a congressional requirement. In addition, NGIC also has not yet deployed electronic bridges to link disparate state and federal gang databases as the department said it would, according to the OIG’s findings.

“Unless NGIC can obtain a technical solution for bridging these databases, NGIC’s ability to use existing gang information will be very limited,” the OIG concluded. “We believe that development of a gang information management system is crucial to support the department’s anti-gang activities and must be achieved as soon as possible.”

NGIC, which is run by the FBI, is supposed to integrate the gang intelligence assets of agencies from inside and outside of Justice, as well as provide a central resource for gang information and analytical support to law-enforcement organizations at different levels of government, according to the report.

However, the IG found NGIC is viewed predominantly as an FBI organization and that the NGIC had few regular users outside of the FBI. Only 13 of the 213 requests for information NGIC received between Jan. 1, 2006, and Feb. 19, 2009, came from state, local or tribal officials.

Michael Brunton, NGIC’s program director, said in a phone interview that the center is in the process of setting up the national repository of gang information. Brunton added that there was a setback with a previous contractor, but the center now has a new contract in place to develop the online repository for gang intelligence that will have information from other agencies, and include a wiki function and reports.

Brunton also said the center is also working to establish what he said what was essentially, although not technically, a national gang database to connect the disparate systems from around the country. He said the initial step involves setting up a “pointer system” that will tell officials that query the system whom to call for more information.

Brunton acknowledged that gang databases around the country don’t “talk to each other,” but said  NGIC can query databases around the country and it serves as a clearinghouse for requests from different agencies.

Brunton said NGIC has an internal database where information can be queried, and that the center’s intelligence products are posted on networks for sharing sensitive but unclassified information with other agencies. He added that NGIC's internal database is shared with Justice’s Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center, an organization designed to coordinate overlapping investigations, make sure intelligence is shared, as well as serve as a central coordinating and deconfliction center. He said the centers also have systems in place to share information.

However, the IG found GangTECC’s use of NGIC’s gang intelligence services is limited, and that NGIC’s intelligence products also had limited value to GangTECC personnel despite operational guidance that says GangTECC is supposed to be a major user of NGIC’s services. The IG said although they are located in the same office suite, NGIC and GangTECC aren’t effectively collaborating or sharing gang-related information.

The OIG review also found that despite having a broad mission, GangTECC hasn’t been able to host coordination meetings or conduct effective outreach because it has no operational budget. In addition, despite being around for three years GangTECC hasn’t established itself as the central coordination and deconfliction center for gang investigations because U.S. attorney’s offices don’t have to notify it when new gang cases are opened, the IG said.

“We found that after more than three years, the centers have not significantly improved the coordination and execution of the department’s anti-gang initiatives,” the IG said. “Although the NGIC and GangTECC partnership was created to provide investigators and prosecutors with ‘one-stop shopping’ for gang information and assistance, that has not occurred.”

The IG’s 15 recommendations to fix the situation include:

  • NGIC should create a plan to get a gang information management system in place.
  • NGIC should work to identify ways to make its intelligence products more useful.
  • GangTECC needs its own operating budget.
  • Justice should consider merging NGIC and GangTECC.

The FBI and Justice Department said in a joint response that they agreed with the concepts behind the recommendations are they are taking steps to deal with them. However, the organizations said they were considering organizations changes that could change how they deal with the recommendations, the bureau and the department said in the response dated Nov. 10 and included in the report.

Laura Sweeney, a Justice spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the leadership of Justice’s Criminal Division has been “actively engaged for many months in identifying possible structural changes that will enhance cooperation and coordination in its violent crime program.”  Sweeney also said the centers had had successes such as identifying 13 priority gang threats and producing a national gang threat assessment used widely by state and local law enforcement officials.

The division is “actively considering organizational changes that we believe will result in more effective and efficient targeting, information sharing and prosecution of gangs nationwide,” she said. “In addition, the department overall is in the process of evaluating and formulating measures to resolve many of the issues identified in the report.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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