As we move farther and farther into the 21st century, data is playing a bigger role in everyday life. It seems that no corner of life has been untouched by the power of data and analytics, so it should be no surprise that law enforcement agencies are also getting on board. Intelligence-led policing is an approach to crime prevention that leans to data to make decisions and predict criminal activity.
In this article, we’d like to take a closer look at what intelligence-led policing is, how it works, and what benefits it may provide. The goal of all law enforcement is not just to catch criminals after they have committed a crime, but to prevent some of that criminal activity in the first place. Public safety can be greatly improved through crime reduction, and law enforcement agencies are more and more turning to this kind of community policing as a viable solution.
A Quick Definition
In order to properly understand how intelligence-led policing – or ILP – works, we need to first understand the traditional model of policing. The standing methods used by police for many years can be referred to as reactive, in that the police respond when something happens. So, a crime occurs, a victim or a bystander calls for emergency assistance, and the police respond. This is how it has worked in a general sense for as long as there have been police departments.
The problem with reactive policing, of course, is that a crime has to occur in the first place. This approach doesn’t really do much to improve public safety, since the crime has already happened by the time the police get involved. Sure, the enforcement of the law after the crime takes place is important, but it would be better to stop that criminal activity ahead of time whenever possible.
That background leads us to the definition of ILP. Rather than reacting to crimes, ILP is focused on improving public safety by using actionable intelligence to stay ahead of the criminals. Using an intelligence-led approach allows a police force to theoretically prevent future crimes from even happening at all. This reduces the number of victims in the end, which is certainly a positive outcome.
How Does Intelligence-Led Policing Work?
At this point, we have offered a basic explanation of what ILP is, and it’s easy enough to see why the potential for reducing future crimes would be an appealing result. But how does it actually work in the real world? In practice, there are actually many different forms of policing that can all be gathered under the ILP umbrella. We’ll look at some of those key strategies in this section.
Working with the Community
For any ILP initiative to be successful, it’s essential that there is a strong relationship between police agencies and the communities that they serve. Predictive policing relies heavily on getting a steady stream of information from civilians in the area, as it is that information that can then be turned into actionable intelligence.
If the public as a whole is not comfortable talking to the police, it’s going to be difficult – if not impossible – to collect the information necessary for ILP. Of course, having a positive relationship with the community is something that every law enforcement agency strives for, so this is a case where improving community ties will not only help ILP efforts, but also help improve policing as a whole.
Partnering with Other Agencies
In some ways, this concept is just an extension of partnering successfully with the community at large. Another key source of information is intelligence sharing between agencies and organizations that overlap in some way. There are many different types of law enforcement groups working in any one area, as various levels of government have their own departments.
When these agencies work together efficiently to share information, police intelligence as a whole can be increased. There is always going to be a limit to the amount of information that a crime analyst in one department can process and put to use, but that limit is greatly expanded when the resources of various other agencies all come together.
Policing Problem Areas
This is a logical way to address geographical locations that have become well-known for criminal activity. If there is a certain section of a city where the same kinds of crimes keep happening week after week, for example, that area can be targeted with predictive policing measures.
For this strategy to work, those problem areas first need to be properly identified – which is where the effective use of data comes into play. By collecting data on things like arrests or complaints, and compiling that data in a way that can easily be analyzed, it’s possible for an intelligence analysis to lead to crime prevention. This is a far cry from reactive policing where officers would continue to be sent to the same areas over and over again, without any change in tactics.
Addressing Ongoing Problems
In addition to using an intelligence led approach to deal with issues in specific geographical locations, crime reduction efforts can also be pointed towards repeat offenders or recurring types of crime in an area. The concept here is the same as it was in the previous section. Data is used to track crime trends or patterns, and that criminal intelligence can be used by decision makers and senior officers to make changes.
How Information Becomes Intelligence
It may seem like the words ‘information’ and ‘intelligence’ can be used interchangeably in law enforcement, and that is true to some degree. However, there is an important distinction between the two, and knowing the difference is essential if predictive policing is going to be used properly.
On a basic level, ‘information’ is just that – it’s information that has been provided to law enforcement by some source. That source could be a witness to a previous crime, it could be someone in the community who has heard people talking, or it could be another law enforcement agency. Whatever the case, information comes into the fold in its raw, unfiltered state.
It is only after that information has been carefully analyzed that it turns into ‘intelligence’. Usually, this means the information has been put together with other pieces of information to gain a clearer, more complete picture of the situation. One piece of information on its own might not be enough for an intelligence led approach, but many pieces of information put together can be a powerful asset.
The analysis that turns information into intelligence is often done by a computer, although it can also be done by an intelligence officer. It’s really when information hits the intelligence stage that it becomes valuable for ILP efforts. The police force will be able to make far more use of organized intelligence as compared to random pieces of information.
Concerns Regarding Civil Liberties
No discussion on the topic of using criminal intelligence and predictive policing would be complete without addressing the matter of civil liberties. Some feel that intelligence gathering represents a risk to privacy for individuals and groups in the community. This is a legitimate concern that must be confronted and handled properly when ILP is implemented.
Often, it is the use of computer-based analysis that is used as a way to hopefully guard against any civil liberty issues. As long as the computer is performing the analysis of raw information that is flowing into the law enforcement system, it should be able to create valuable intelligence that is theoretically free from bias. Decision makers within any law enforcement agency will need to wrestle with this side of intelligence to determine what is an appropriate use of any information that is gathered.
Summarizing Intelligence-Led Policing
To be sure, ILP is a big topic that is not going to be covered thoroughly in a single article. From a big-picture perspective, community policing is important because it has the potential to cut down on the number of crimes that are committed overall. Regardless of how any individual feels about the pros and cons of using actional intelligence, all can agree that crime reduction is a worthy goal.
Each individual law enforcement agency will need to determine how ILP strategies can properly be used to improve public safety. Problem oriented policing is often popular in the community because it feels like the police are doing something to improve the situation. A common complaint regarding reactive policing is that the police force just sits back until there is an issue. Utilizing intelligence sharing and other modern strategies can breathe new life into the way criminal activity is addressed. This style of law enforcement is not without its flaws, but the potential improvements it offers are enough to warrant its careful consideration in a variety of law enforcement settings.