Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Information Sharing: Exploring the Intersection of Policing with National and Military Intelligence

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Information Sharing: Exploring the Intersection of Policing with National and Military Intelligence

Article excerpt

This article explores the intersection of (1) policing and police intelligence with (2) national intelligence and military intelligence. The premise is that for more than 150 years, prior to the events of September 11, 2001, police intelligence had little connection to national or military intelligence. Basically, national intelligence focused on serious world-wide political and economic threats to the nation's well-being; military intelligence focused specifically on military threats to the national security; the police focused their intelligence work on criminals who posed threats to individuals and local communities. A fairly clear division of labor was in place, based largely on the type and scale of threats.

Since 9/11, however, it has become plausible that a small group of non-state actors, such as terrorists, could launch a serious attack against the nation using weapons of mass destruction, or even small arms, as in Mumbai. These individuals might live in a local U.S. community or halfway across the world, yet plan and execute a massive and violent attack against a local U.S. community. They might also commit ordinary crimes to help finance their larger intentions. In this new context of terrorism and asymmetric threats, a local police department might develop intelligence of significant interest to national and military intelligence, or vice versa.

Important historical, conceptual, and policy issues associated with the intersection of national, military, and police intelligence are discussed more fully elsewhere. 1 This article presents the results of a small-scale study in which subject matter experts were asked to respond to several scenarios related to intelligence and information sharing, asking both what should happen and what would actually happen.


Policing in the United States is civilian (non-military), predominantly local (funded and directed by local governments), and extremely fragmented. It is not just that police are distributed all around the country 2 - they mostly answer to local elected officials. The U.S. has almost 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, roughly 16,000 of which are local. Of the remaining 2,000 agencies, the vast majority represent special jurisdictions (university police, transit police, park police, etc.), followed by state agencies, and lastly by federal non-military agencies. Out of 837,000 full-time sworn police personnel (armed with arrest authority), 74 percent work for local agencies, 13 percent work for federal law enforcement, and 13 percent work for state or special jurisdiction law enforcement agencies. 3

The two largest components of U.S. policing are both local: municipal police departments (cities, towns, townships, boroughs, villages) and county sheriff's offices. 4 Two characteristics of these types of law enforcement agencies are absolutely essential for understanding their capabilities and contexts: most are small (77 percent have fewer than twenty-five full-time sworn officers), 5 and they are all independent of each other. There is no chain of command in the police industry - within individual agencies, yes, but among and between the 18,000 agencies, no. 6

Along with industry structure, it is important to note a thing or two about police work and police culture. Particularly at the local and state levels, police officers in the field frequently act alone and without immediate supervision. Much of their work involves making "low visibility decisions" - especially when an officer's decision does not result in a report or an arrest (and most police actions and decisions do not), it is rarely subject to review. If an officer's decision does not result in a report or arrest, it probably will not produce any official information for later analysis. As Peter Manning notes, "information in police departments can best be characterized as systematically decentralized. …

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