While most police agencies have done a good job of collecting information regarding crimes and those who commit them, many have not gone the extra step and carefully analyzed the raw data. Most of their accumulated figures were gathered simply for statistical purposes. Indeed, many departments maintained good data on the numbers of murders, robberies, assaults, etc., for submission to the FBI as part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
The UCR has always been a valuable tool for researchers, the media and public for information regarding crime in the U.S.
Data comes from more than 18,000 city, university, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies that voluntarily participate in the program. While the statistics are important, they only serve to tell one story, and that is what crimes occurred during the past year. The data does little to help prevent or explain why the same crimes may occur in the future.
Intelligence-led policing (ILP) is that needed next step. ILP is a system that uses the collected data and information gathered from officers on the street, as well as information from the public and other agencies, and then uses trained analysts to identify trends, locations and offenders committing the crimes. ILP then uses the analyses to assign resources to focus on those committing the crimes. Whether a department is community oriented in its policing, directly attacking high crime areas, or other strategies, ILP can provide a meaningful contribution. This method is akin to a business model wherein a company focuses on increasing sales by looking at trends. In this manner, the company can target its resources on the most important and lucrative areas of their market.
The genesis of ILP
Although relatively new to departments in the U.S., ILP first appeared in the United Kingdom in the 1990s by the Kent Constabulary. Facing budget cuts and hit with a skyrocketing increase in property crimes, the constabulary knew they had to be innovative to combat the growing crime rate. They surmised that only a small number of offenders were committing the majority of property crimes. Thus, their strategy was to devote less time on service calls and more time on creating information gathering units to analyze the property crimes themselves. Because of their unique focus on the offenders, rather than the crimes, they experienced a 24 percent reduction in the property crime rate.
Some may say ILP is nothing more than community policing. However, community policing places most of the onus of identifying and solving crime problems with street level officers. ILP is more hierarchical in nature and emphasizes a top-down approach. The street officers gather information which is studied by analysts and is then passed up to the executive level where it is reviewed and a plan is formulated. A decision is made as to how to resolve the problem and what resources to allocate. This solution is sent back down to operations for implementation.
We know that community policing heavily involves the neighborhoods in identifying local problems. ILP still seeks that input, but doesn’t necessarily address all of their concerns. They may ignore the community’s wishes if the totality of information gathered indicates a more serious problem exists elsewhere. For example, neighbors may identify a local bar as a noise and loitering problem. However, after collecting information and analyzing the data, the police may discover a robbery ring working in an adjoining neighborhood, prompting them to ignore the noise problem and focus on identifying and arresting the robbery offenders.
This top-down information approach is gaining in popularity in the U.S. due to its very simple model. Specially trained analysts, or depending on the size of the department, analysis units, pull data from records, databases, and witness and victim statements to identify trends and patterns. Once the process is complete, the intelligence is used to formulate an actionable plan and determine what resources are needed. The plan is then transmitted to the street level officers and investigators to put into action.
Information plus analysis equals intelligence
In order to grasp the basic premise of ILP, it’s important to understand and differentiate the terms: information and intelligence. Information is simply raw anecdotal data collected from officers, investigators on the street, other departments/agencies and the public. Information is not intelligence, although you will often hear that departments have an intelligence unit that collects information.
Intelligence is information that has been studied and analyzed by experienced personnel to create a comprehensive view of the crimes committed. Intelligence is actionable and fluid, and provides a solution to the problem.
A common misconception regarding generating intelligence is that information can be uploaded into a software program for analysis that then provides a solution. This flawed strategy assumes the software is better able to analyze information more thoroughly than a trained experienced analyst. That doesn’t mean an analyst won’t use a computer program to aid in their analysis, particularly when there are large amounts of data to be sorted. Once the software sorts data and breaks it down, the analyst is then able to provide conclusions and recommendations for law enforcement executives to help make critical decisions.
An important aspect of ILP is the sharing of information. As we learned from the events on 9/11, many federal agencies were parochial in their approach to information. Most kept information within their agency’s files and didn’t share them with other departments or agencies. The biggest flaw in this practice was illustrated best by the non-existent relationship between the FBI and CIA. Each federal entity had critical information that would have helped prevent the attack on our homeland. That lack of sharing has since been rectified, and as a result dozens of plots to attack U.S. targets have been foiled.
Intelligence operations are successfully implemented on myriad levels: local police, federal agencies and homeland security. While the best information gatherers have traditionally been cops on the beat, the data they provide often falls into a black hole.
Small departments and some agencies lack the ability to have their information analyzed, and no policies or structures are in place to ensure each piece of data is addressed. This problem must be remedied by reevaluating how departments gather, store and share information. Collaboration with the community being served is necessary. Potential targets of crime and terrorism must be identified and a partnership established with those entities.
ILP has been embraced by many departments and agencies. Its popularity has spawned the creation of “fusion centers,” which provide information to street level officers and managers regarding specific criminals, crime groups, and criminal activities. These centers serve multiagency policing needs from anti-terrorism to combating certain crimes. By gathering information from public and private databases, fusion centers can provide constant intelligence to their partners, as well as give overviews and analyses of trends.
Presently, there are fusion centers in at least 25 states and more are in the planning stage. The funding for fusion centers comes from state and federal sources, and while one might think they are limited to anti-terrorism activities, the truth is they are not.
A center’s mission may include all manner of crimes: identity theft, insurance fraud, money laundering, cigarette smuggling, armed robbery and all significant crimes. The strategy of not limiting a center’s approach to anti-terrorism is endorsed by many advisory and policy groups. It is widely believed that fusion centers lead to more professional police work, which in turn uncovers and prevents many terror plots.
Intelligence development and sharing, particularly with local law enforcement, has proven to be a winning strategy. Through alerts and information, the cop on the beat, as well as the public, feel they have a direct role in preventing terrorist acts. Tip lines for reporting suspicious activity have been fruitful and provided many valuable leads for law enforcement. When people feel invested in the process, they are more likely to come forward and participate.
ILP relies heavily on community cooperation to succeed. Street level officers and investigators must strive to develop close ties and relationships with residents and business owners in order to gather information. Once the data is collected, it is turned over to the analysts who help the managers develop a strategy to solve any crime issues.
Intelligence sharing is essential to prevent attacks
Budget constraints aren’t unique to small town police departments. Cutbacks and doing more with less money is a problem that transcends all departments and agencies, large and small. While budgets may be shrinking, crime and terrorist activities are thriving, and in some cases are out of control.
ILP can help ameliorate any shortcomings through shared intelligence, vis-à-vis fusion centers, and by understanding the realization that today’s policing does not function in a vacuum. Information and intelligence sharing is essential to prevent crime and potential terrorist attacks. All law enforcement agencies have a role in the transformation of national intelligence operations.
In order to be successful, intelligence-led policing must include executive commitment and involvement. Without the manager’s full resolve the ILP program will lose its effectiveness. In addition, constant upgrading of analysts’ capabilities and education, as well as constant reassessment of the process, is critical in implementing a strong ILP framework.
By John Wills | Officer.com
About the Author
John Wills is a former Chicago police officer and retired FBI agent. He is a freelance writer and award-winning author in a variety of genres, including novels, short stories and poetry. John also writes book reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Visit John at jwillsbooks.com.