The maturing of fusion centers

In years past, “fusion” maybe didn’t mean much to law enforcement. It was more of a nuclear physics term, a word used to describe technology, or a maybe a name for a dance club or the music played inside. “Fusion” didn’t start working its...

“It’s critical that the public understand every one of our centers now has a nationally approved privacy policy,” Ashley says. “We’re ensuring that the information we collect is appropriate and does not infringe on people’s civil rights and civil liberties. And we’re ensuring that information is not going to be used for nefarious reasons.

“It’s important that we reach out to all stakeholders, so they’re fully aware that this information ... is critical to national security.”

Success stories

While a number of success stories can be attributed to fusion centers, Ashley says the biggest success is the horizontal and vertical information sharing. “When was the last time you’ve seen an autonomous network stand up with federal support in a very successful way without a formal program?” he asks. “Here, you have a grass roots program where 72 fusion centers work together focusing on similar issues, sharing information horizontally and vertically in both directions. It’s a heck of a success story.”

The annual National Fusion Center Conference, a gathering of some 1,000 fusion center, intelligence and law enforcement representatives, draws attention to the positive aspects of this type of collaboration. The Tennessee Fusion Center (TFC) was recently dubbed “Fusion Center of the Year” for its progress in analyzing and sharing terrorism and criminal information among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, at both the tactical and strategic levels.

Housed within the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the TFC was created in 2007. In addition to its lead agencies, namely the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, TFC partners include the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Tennessee Department of Correction, the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, the National Guard, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Regional Organized Crime Information Center, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.

Fusing technologies

Steven Hewitt, supervisory intelligence officer with the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security and co-director of the TFC, says the center has worked to build its technology capabilities using DHS grant dollars and state dollars. One tool developed by the TFC brings suspicious activity reports to the fusion center, and allows analysts to submit them for the national SAR initiative if they meet specific criteria.

Tennessee’s statewide consolidated RMS, known as LEADR, allows information of law enforcement relevance to be exchanged across the state. A central repository collects incident reports, offense reports, crash reports, traffic citations and supplemental reports related to criminal investigations. This information can then be used by fusion center analysts and law enforcement conducting criminal investigations in the field. Agencies who contribute criminal incident information can search all records within the consolidated RMS, an open source system. Memex, a public security and information management technology company, brings everything together by powering the TFC’s Tips and Leads-SAR criminal intelligence management.

The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), provided free to fusion centers by DHS, serves as the TFC’s information-sharing platform. State e-mail accounts are also used to deliver information to fusion center customers.

The TFC is looking forward to the next generation of HSIN, which Hewitt points out has had a challenged past.

“It’s critical that DHS continue to fully support and fund the development of HSIN because it’s what everyone needs,” he says. “Other systems are very good, but they don’t allow various disciplines to share national threat information. HSIN offers a wider platform of information sharing for a lot of different customer bases that we desperately need in place as soon as possible.”

Law enforcement support

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