Criminal Intelligence – What’s Next?
The catchphrase, “intelligence-led policing”, is commonly heard in law enforcement today, despite being a complex, evolving concept that often lacks clarity. Traditionally, it has been used to support investigations or patrol work.1 It implies that police agencies have added criminal intelligence (CI) analysts to their enforcement tool belt.
These analysts are primarily assigned to one of two different tasks.
The first is administrative in its focus, is a norm in policing, and is most recognizable to the public by the name “CompStat” (COMPuter STATistics - which has its roots with the NYPD). As a performance management system CompStat has demonstrated an ability to reduce crime and encourage police accountability.2
The second is tactical in its focus, is used by investigation units throughout western policing and is familiar to the public by way of movies and TV shows. Here a skilled analyst hunts down a suspect(s) by sifting through information found across various data sources (the internet, open sources, databases, briefing documents, notes) and by using computer programs to collate that information and intelligence. When the analyst draws a comprehensive picture of the crime, police officers use that intelligence picture to chart their investigation which often results in arrest(s).
Combined, these two types account for the vast majority of analysis that is conducted by police. When you hear the words “intelligence-led policing”, if you think either CompStat (the managerial focus) or tactical (the operational focus), you won’t stray far from the mark.
These two analytic enterprises give police agencies vital tools by which to identify and arrest criminals, disrupt or disband organized crime and by which to identify neighbourhood crime problems and press for solutions. As such, the use of criminal intelligence indisputably provides positive benefits to policing and ultimately to the public we serve. But there is something missing. It is poorly understood and rarely recognized in policing circles. But if we move beyond CompStat and tactical intelligence we open a door to something powerful: strategic intelligence.
The simple truth is that policing tends to be reactive. Police agencies are excellent crisis managers. A crisis occurs (a spree of robberies, fentanyl related deaths, terrorism) and police agencies throughout Canada quickly establish action plans to address the crisis. And there is always another crisis waiting for attention, whether national in scale or restricted to a smaller municipality or neighbourhood.
However, strategic intelligence moves beyond the reactive. By definition it is “[r]elated to the structure and movement of organized criminal elements, patterns of criminal activity, criminal trend projections, or projective planning.”3
Strategic intelligence is future-oriented and predictive. It takes on a tougher task. It looks to develop a comprehensive, fact-driven picture of the criminal landscape and, after drawing inferences from that fact-picture, makes predictions about the future. Simply put, it seeks to give police agencies and police leaders a “heads-up” about what they might be facing in the near future. When police agencies engage with this kind of strategic intelligence, they become more accurately “intelligence-led”. But there are a few difficulties.
Looking to the future
First, police executives do not generally demand this kind of strategic analysis. This is not surprising given that the “here-and-now” usually presents sufficient challenges to an agency and its resources. If an agency is hard pressed to meet existing demands, why go looking for future issues?
Second, there is no expectation for analysts to provide a strategic, future oriented product. As a result, analysts have little familiarity with strategic intelligence and are often uncomfortable when put in a position requiring them to make “predictions”. For some police officers these predictions are not dissimilar to fortune-telling while some analysts fear the specter of “being wrong”. As a result, few analysts have the skills and disposition needed to produce strategic intelligence reports.
Third, our existing police culture has not developed an appetite for strategic intelligence products nor has it exhibited a proficiency in consuming such products meaningfully. For instance, if it was projected that cybercrime was going to pose a significant criminal threat to an aging population over the next five years (which is not an entirely implausible prediction) what does this mean to specific individual police agencies? Given most are already overwhelmed by the complexity and pervasiveness of cybercrime, what is the real “value” of such a strategic conclusion? Yet, in business, in the military, in institutions, in government, the understanding that strategic, future-oriented projections are critical to success is accepted as a foundational norm.4 What to do?
At present, intelligence-led policing has looked to answer the obvious question of “who should we investigate?” It is time to move past seeing the obvious and search for the hidden. It is time to ask the “what’s going to happen tomorrow” question. Now, this question is already pertinent to individual investigations. But strategic intelligence leaves the individual behind and looks at the big picture, the criminal landscape, and here individuals coalesce into trends and projections. Do we have tools to help answer these sorts of tough questions? We do.
Social Network Analysis
Today there is much talk about Social Network Analysis (SNA). Simply put, this is an established intelligence tool that identifies links and connections between people, places, objects and other social artifacts for the purpose of revealing useful intelligence. Analysts can apply SNA applications to the larger criminal landscape. It can be used to isolate and expose key vulnerabilities in criminal networks, reveal enforcement opportunities and suggest trends in future criminal activities. This exploitation of strategically identified vulnerabilities is a key to future enforcement success. Retired US Marine Corps general A. M Gray explains, “Of all the vulnerabilities we might choose to exploit, some are more critical to the enemy than others. It follows that the most effective way to defeat our enemy is to destroy that which is most critical to him. We should focus our efforts on the one thing which, if eliminated, will do the most decisive damage to his ability to resist us. By taking this from him we defeat him outright or at least weaken him severely”.5 Organized crime groups are enemies to social order and the rule of law.
To turn this argument into a reality, the following preconditions must be established:
· The development of a national standard in the criminal-intelligence community by which intelligence is coded and entered into SNA applications,
· The acceptance of a standard SNA application(s) that allow for cross compatibility,
· Education and training for analysts,
· Development of a strategic report template that provides a framework for analysts tasked with preparing strategic reports,
· Developing among police executives a cultural expectation that, having reviewed a strategic report, the future oriented recommendations presented for their consideration are based on reasonable inferences (competence) drawn from a vetted fact pattern (validity) that can be replicated (reliability).
This builds confidence in the process and product.
Intelligence-led policing has had many successes. More are needed. Crucially, strategic intelligence represents the next big step for the criminal intelligence community. The people, the technology, and the organizational ability are in place. SA is available today; big-data mining software tools provide a glimpse into tomorrow. Strategic intelligence should, and must, become a core tool for police decision makers in the future. Now is the time for police leaders to move with a sense of urgency and build a strategic intelligence foundation. Action today will equip future police officers to more effectively engage an increasingly complex organised crime environment as we all continue to serve the public good.
1. Ratcliffe, Jerry. (2008). Intelligence-Led Policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing. pp. 64-90.
2. See http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Free_Online_Documents/Compstat/compstat%20-%20its%20origins%20evolution%20and%20future%20in%20law%20enforcement%20agencies%202013.pdf
3. See http://www.ialeia.org/component/content/article/2-uncategorised/58-standards.html.
4. See https://hbr.org/2016/01/how-big-data-is-changing-disruptive-innovation.
5. See http://www.theusmarines.com/downloads/FMFM1/FMFM1-1.pdf, pg.35.
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