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What People Are Saying

"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."

Lt. Thomas Kerle
State Police

Ganging Up on Gangs

June 7, 1999
by Lois Pilant

Highly 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 activity categories.

System Tracks 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 lines.

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.

Developed in 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.

System Also 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 of information."

From Demo to Development

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 Right Away

NEGIS became 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 Databases

According to 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:

  1. E-mail, which facilitates officer-to-officer communication, as well as officer-to-prosecutor communication.
  2. Resource database that stores information about officersí special abilities or areas of expertise.
  3. Online discussion, or listserv, with a bulletin board for posting queries and images, such as shots of unfamiliar tattoos, hand signals, gang members, or vehicles.
  4. Public domain reference library with full text-search capabilities. It houses everything from scholarly articles and research findings to ongoing studies and newspaper stories.
  5. Intelligence 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.

Results in a Few Hours, Not Hundreds or Thousands

"NEGIS is 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 justice tool."

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.

About the Author

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