The Law Enforcement Intelligence Function: State, Local, and Tribal Agencies

Article excerpt

Law enforcement intelligence has changed dramatically since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Fueled by the need for more widespread information sharing and a higher quality of intelligence for counterterrorism, these reforms also have helped law enforcement agencies investigate criminal enterprises and prevent crimes of all types.


With the development of the intelligence-led policing (ILP) philosophy and its operationalization through the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (NCISP), state, local, and tribal law enforcement organizations have begun to revisit their roles in intelligence processes. Agencies that have intelligence units should reexamine their operating policies and guidelines to ensure consistency with national standards, contemporary laws, and current acceptable practices. Those without such units need to develop some type of intelligence capacity, even if it consists of only one person trained to understand the language, processes, and products available. This individual can serve as the department's intelligence contact point, as well as the conduit to disseminate information to those who need it.

The foundation of developing an intelligence capacity rests on understanding its role in the overall mission of the organization. ILP serves as the contemporary model for this function. (1) Emerging as a concept following an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) summit on intelligence and information sharing, ILP seeks to provide guidance on operational activities based on empirical evidence objectively assessed and analyzed. (2)


As the community policing philosophy evolved by embracing problem solving and, most recently, Compstat, it became clear that law enforcement agencies could effectively manage crime and disorder in their communities by basing their operations on an analysis of empirically collected data on trends of concern. (3) While analysis (including Compstat) tends to concentrate on street crimes and burglaries within a jurisdiction, ILP focuses on complex, multijurisdictional crime and terrorism. Like community policing, ILP is proactive, giving operational guidance and, hence, using resources more efficiently and effectively. Importantly, ILP provides philosophical integration of intelligence activities within law enforcement operations, rather than being an undefined tangential activity as was too often the case in the past.

Of course, any concept must be translated to practice to have an effect. As a result, the NCISP serves as a blueprint for administrators to promote intelligence sharing while, at the same time, protecting citizens' constitutional rights. The plan establishes standards for maintaining records, training personnel, developing information-sharing partnerships, and generally enhancing the ability of the law enforcement community to prevent terrorism and organized crime through a robust intelligence capacity.

The emergence of ILP and the NCISP significantly enhanced the law enforcement intelligence function. The challenge now centers on implementing these initiatives in America's law enforcement agencies, addressing the concerns expressed by citizens on matters of privacy and the expression of free speech, and accomplishing these objectives in a relatively short time frame.


In the purest sense, intelligence is the product of an analytic process that evaluates information collected from diverse sources, integrates the relevant data into a cohesive package, and produces a conclusion or estimate about a criminal phenomenon by using the scientific approach to problem solving (i.e., analysis). Thus, intelligence, a synergistic product, can provide meaningful and trustworthy direction to law enforcement decision makers about complex unlawful activities, including criminal enterprises and extremists, as well as terrorists. …