Information sharing between the various levels of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies has historically been problematic. Both human and technological shortcomings have been blamed for the lack of meaningful sharing. The slow, disjointed improvement we have seen over the years has largely come about as a result of significant natural and historic events.
Without doubt, the tragic events of 9/11 had a positive effect jump starting the law enforcement community's efforts to resolve long standing information-sharing issues. The scrutiny and investigation into "who knew what and when," and more importantly, "who told whom" has dramatically revealed the gaps and holes in the flow of information.
Public perception of law enforcement's ability to protect life, property and prevent future heinous acts has undoubtedly been negatively affected. And the deadly terrorist event last November in Mumbai, India, elevated concerns over protective capabilities should a similar murder spree, terrorist or hostage siege take place in America.
As we see great strides taken all across the country to improve sharing, remove barriers and integrate data at all levels, several questions arise:
- What's the next step?
- What is being done with the information?
- What analysis is being conducted?
- What type of threat assessment is being conducted?
An underlying principal of intelligence-led policing, widely accepted as an effective policing strategy, is that it is an analytical-driven threat assessment. Although this type of assessment is not new, its broad application is to most in the law enforcement community. In fact, many officers on the street harbor disdain for this approach to policing and criminal investigation because they believe it distracts them from doing their jobs — catching criminals and locking them up.
But best practice models and intelligence mandates require analytical-driven policing and greater information sharing among federal, state and local authorities to fight crime and terrorism. Though some law enforcement executives believe these noteworthy goals have been accomplished, an examination of the current state of affairs speaks differently:
- Coordination of intelligence between federal, state and local agencies is still inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
- Federal authorities rarely, and then only manually, tap state tips-and-lead management systems to investigate suspicious activities and trends. Additionally, all feeds of local suspicious activity information are manually fed to the FBI Guardian System.
- The FBI has had limited exposure to training and limited access to state and local information systems. Consequently, it cannot access the information it needs in real time.
- Fusion centers, which are the intra- and inter-state mechanisms for exchanging information and intelligence to prevent attacks, are just realizing the value of integrating multiple data sources, including local intelligence systems.
However, there are bright spots:
- The FBI has begun to place Field Intelligence Group personnel at state and local fusion centers to make the state-federal connection more seamless.
- The Department of Homeland Security has also begun to co-locate analytical personnel at state and local fusion centers.
- The Regional Information Sharing System Network (RISSNET) continues to act as a facilitator in the sharing of intelligence and helps coordinate efforts against criminal networks that operate across jurisdictional lines in many locations.
- LEO (Law Enforcement Online) and Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), two national interactive communications systems and information services, are more routinely used by the state and local law enforcement.
- The National Data Exchange System has gone live. This system will provide unprecedented national access to local law enforcement records management systems.
The challenge of successfully managing the significant protocol and procedures related to criminal intelligence information remains.
Part of the strategy to overcome this obstacle is the use of automated intelligence management systems. These systems can play a vital role in supporting and enforcing the necessary processes that support the collection, management and development of intelligence. They also provide for the efficient and secure sharing of information between law enforcement partners at all levels.
The trust factor
Technology can also play a leading role in building trust among the different entities managing the data. While collecting information is important, disseminating it is paramount.
Information sharing needs to be facilitated via automation and a rules-based model, limiting the need for human intervention. Policies can be enforced to alert officials when searches hit on user-defined pertinent and important issues. Secure and scalable platforms that take into account multiple users, access levels and methods of sharing intelligence in today's dynamic intelligence environment are crucial to the successful sharing of raw information, finished and unfinished intelligence products.
During the critical development stage of any intelligence-led operation, the system should support information evaluation and the development of structured intelligence records, using tools that automate linking those records to their sources, as mandated by federal regulation. Of necessity, it should support security to its lowest level, locking not only entire records but also parts of those records through a flexible security definition system.
In addition, powerful visualization tools are necessary to help investigators and analysts connect seemingly disparate data, understand complex scenarios, and identify hidden relationships between data. Workflow management tools should be flexible enough to suit all staffing levels and experience. The input and retrieval of data should not be restricted to one specialist unit, since all information is potentially valuable to an agency.
Since real-time information is critical in the fight against crime and terrorism, the system's information-sharing tools must reduce barriers so details are available to those who need it most.
Continuing the fight
As more and more information-sharing centers become a reality, we need to ensure that they leverage the institutional knowledge that exists in law enforcement agencies and take full advantage of contemporary and developing technology. Daily examination of the influx of data is important so analysts can make judgments about the severity of threats. While a common activity for the military, the law enforcement community has yet to fully embrace the need for predictive analytical processes, utilizing cutting edge technologies, training personnel and developing true expertise. This can be best demonstrated by the painfully slow pace at which formally trained analysts are hired and deployed.
Furthermore, the fact that many large police agencies have yet to purchase, develop or deploy new information-sharing and analysis technology is alarming. Lack of funding and bureaucratically long procurement cycles have contributed to the problem in acquiring resources that are all absolutely necessary in a post-9/11 policing environment.
Good technology with properly trained investigators and analysts behind it can begin to bridge the information-sharing gap, and aid the continuing fight against crime and terrorism.
A former New Jersey intelligence chief, Capt. Stephen Serrao now helps fusion centers with data sharing. Serrao is also the Americas regional director of product management for Memex Inc. and can be reached at email@example.com.