People Are Saying
NEGIS, if you had a photo of a hand signal, you might have
sent 40 copies to other police departments and detective units,
and hoped somebody called you back. Or you might have had
to sit there and make 40 phone calls. With NEGIS, we can do
in a few hours what might take hundreds or thousands of hours."
Ganging Up on Gangs
June 7, 1999
by Lois Pilant
mobile and loosely organized, gangs in this country are notoriously
hard to track. Their leadership structure changes constantly. Their
use of street names makes members extremely difficult to identify.
And their involvement in everything from drug trafficking and prostitution
to carjacking and murder places them under a myriad of criminal
Gangs Across State Lines
It was for
these reasons that the Northeast Gang Information System (NEGIS)
was created--to give law enforcement officers in five northeastern
States the ability to track gang members within and across State
NEGIS had its
beginnings as a gang-tracking computer program that was initially
the design of two Massachusetts State Police (MSP) investigators,
a spin-off of a similar program created by the Boston Police Department.
And they did it by customizing an off-the-shelf product.
Lotus NotesTM, the computer
program had modules that let officers send messages, track leads,
identify officers and other experts with special skills, access
a library of gang-focused articles, and input or retrieve information
from an intelligence database.
Addresses Biggest Problem--Communication
"About 5 years
ago we were given a mandate to pursue funding to find a statewide
solution to gangs," says Lt. Thomas Kerle, a commander in MSP's
Division of Investigative Services. "We used Boston's prototype
and built NEGIS, which is really more than a gang-tracking system.
We wanted to address bigger issues, like communication, which is
by far the biggest problem. So we built modules that address communication
between people, as well as the storage, organization, and exchange
From Demo to
The NEGIS Project
started in 1996 at the request of President Clinton, who saw a demonstration
of the software and asked the National Institute of Justice (NIJ),
the research and development branch of the U.S. Department of Justice,
to fund its development. In fiscal year 1997, $425,000 in NIJ funding
was awarded to the Police Executive Research Forum to provide the
equipment and training to make the system operational.
It Got Results
operational in April 1998 and almost immediately began to show results.
In one Massachusetts drive-by shooting, a witness knew only the
suspectís moniker, or street name. The investigating officer posted
an account of the incident along with the suspect's moniker on the
NEGIS bulletin board. An officer from another agency recognized
the name and identified the suspect, who was later arrested.
NEGIS Is Five
Kerle, today NEGIS is a series of five separate databases that serve
law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island,
Connecticut, and New York. The five e-databases are:
which facilitates officer-to-officer communication, as well as
database that stores information about officersí special abilities
or areas of expertise.
- Online discussion,
or listserv, with a bulletin board for posting queries and images,
such as shots of unfamiliar tattoos, hand signals, gang members,
- Public domain
reference library with full text-search capabilities. It houses
everything from scholarly articles and research findings to ongoing
studies and newspaper stories.
database for gang tracking. Each of the five States maintains
its own intelligence database to comply with Federal and State
privacy laws. The files contained in the other four databases,
however, are shared.
a Few Hours, Not Hundreds or Thousands
another tool to help the investigator solve crimes. Although itís
not the silver bullet that's going to end gang violence, it complements
the other efforts we make," Kerle says. "At this time, it's hard
to measure the impact NEGIS has had. We do know itís been a force
multiplier. Before NEGIS, if you had a photo of a hand signal, you
might have sent 40 copies to other police departments and detective
units, and hoped somebody called you back. Or you might have had
to sit there and make 40 phone calls. With NEGIS, we can do in a
few hours what might take hundreds or thousands of hours. It eases
communication, and saves people time. NEGIS showed that an off-the-shelf
product could be customized to create a usable, affordable, criminal
For More Information
For more information
about the Northeast Gang Information System, contact Sharla Rausch,
National Institute of Justice project manager, 202-305-8628; Lt.
Thomas Kerle, a commander in the Massachusetts State Police Division
of Investigative Services, 508-820-2287; or Cliff Karchmer, Police
Executive Research Forum project manager, 202-466-7820.
This story, written by Lois Pilant, was originally published in
Techbeat, a publication of the National Institute of Justice's National
Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. Pilant is a contributing
writer. For general inquiries regarding Techbeat, call 1-800-248-2742
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.