Intelligence-Led Policing Research Paper

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Intelligence-led policing is a policing business model that incorporates data analysis and criminal intelligence into a strategy that coordinates strategic risk management of threats with a focus on serious, recidivist offenders. It originated in the UK but has been increasingly adopted around the world.


Intelligence-led policing (ILP) is a term now embedded in the lexicon of policing around the world. From its origins in the new public management ethos of 1990s Britain to hurried US recommendations for ILP adoption in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies have looked to ILP as the contemporary model (Carter 2009) to integrate the intelligence function into the operations of the police service. The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (GIWG 2003), developed for the US Department of Justice by the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) Intelligence Working Group (GIWG), advocated heavily for the need for ILP, yet they neither defined it nor explained how it should be implemented (Carter and Carter 2009). Wardlaw and Boughton (writing in 2006) point out that “the concept of intelligence-led policing is now widely espoused by police services as a fundamental part of the way they do business. But for such a widely talked about concept, there is remarkably little clarity about its definition and fundamental concepts” (2006: 134). So while the term has joined the jargon of police departments seeking to establish their credentials as innovative and progressive, the absence of a definition from which to direct and measure implementation hampered initial development (Ratcliffe 2008a).

Various definitions of ILP now exist to fill the void. One stresses the philosophical role of the intelligence function within policing, describing it as “an underlying philosophy of how intelligence fits into the operations of a law enforcement organization. Rather than being simply an information clearinghouse that has been appended to the organization, ILP provides strategic integration of intelligence into the overall mission of the organization” (Carter 2004: 4). The Bureau of Justice Assistance has three definitions of ILP within the same document (BJA 2009): first describing it as “a business process for systematically collecting, organizing, analyzing, and utilizing intelligence to guide law enforcement operational and tactical decisions” (p. 3) and then as “a collaborative law enforcement approach combining problem-solving policing, information sharing, and police accountability, with enhanced intelligence operations” (p. 4). The same page finally settles on, “executive implementation of the intelligence cycle to support proactive decision making for resource allocation and crime prevention. In order to successfully implement this business process, police executives must have clearly defined priorities as part of their policing strategy” (p. 4). Thus, within the space of two pages, ILP is a business model, an operational tactic, and a strategic leadership function.

One definition has been increasingly adopted by a variety of writers (e.g., Burch and Geraci 2011; Gottschalk 2010; Hess and Orthmann 2011; Smith 2009) as the de facto definition: Intelligence-led policing is a business model and managerial philosophy where data analysis and crime intelligence are pivotal to an objective, decision-making framework that facilitates crime and problem reduction, disruption and prevention through both strategic management and effective enforcement strategies that target prolific and serious offenders. (Ratcliffe 2008a: 89)

This definition was arrived at after consultation and wordsmithing from a number of influential analysts and intelligence managers involved in the implementation of ILP within Britain’s National Intelligence Model and beyond. The definition integrates analysis and intelligence into the decision-making structure of a police department and combines a traditional enforcement approach for serious and prolific offenders with the problem-oriented strategic management of crimes and other policing problems. With the inclusion of problems in the definition, there exists the possibility for the business model component to be applied to a variety of (noncrime) policing issues, such as traffic management and crash prevention (as is the case in New Zealand). As the original architects of the UK National Intelligence Model have pointed out, “we knew that the intelligence model was in fact an ideal model for the whole business of policing that would enable police commanders to understand and anticipate risks and threats across the public safety domain” (Flood and Gaspar 2009: 54).


Rising crime levels in many countries during the 1980s and 1990s drove some police departments to seek out more cost-effective strategies and greater efficiencies from increasingly limited police budgets (Ratcliffe 2008a). The “demand gap” of greater expectations placed on police not being met with equivalent increases in resources placed a strain across the policing sector and drove some to seek out more strategic approaches to the business of policing (Flood and Gaspar 2009). While the USA was the originator for problem-oriented policing, the UK’s different policing structure and “more sophisticated legacy” with criminal intelligence (Carter and Carter 2009) provided other opportunities. Emerging from various criminal intelligence reforms during the 1970s (Flood and Gaspar 2009), two influential British government reports, Helping With Enquiries: Tackling Crime Effectively (Audit Commission 1993) and Policing with Intelligence (HMIC 1997), laid out the government’s interpretation of the problems; existing police roles and accountability lacked integration, police were not making the best use of resources, and targeting criminals would be more effective than focusing on crime. The reports also pointed to a potential solution, with Policing with Intelligence stating in the first paragraph:

—–Good quality intelligence is the life blood of the modern police service. It allows for a clear understanding of crime and criminality, identifies which criminals are active, which crimes are linked and where problems are likely to occur. It enables valuable resources to be targeted effectively against current challenges and emerging trends ensuring the best opportunities for positive intervention and maximum value for money. (HMIC 1997: 1)

Unencumbered by the damaging domestic intelligence failures and bad practices that plagued the development of criminal intelligence in the USA (Carter 2004; Ratcliffe 2008a), British policing leaders looked to reform the police service with a greater focus on the strategic management of crime risks through a better understanding of the criminal environment.

This period of sustained reform in British policing also saw the development of the UK National Intelligence Model (NIM). Enthusiastically adopted by a number of police leaders, some saw it as an occasion to push back against the prevailing neighborhood reassurance/community policing model popular at the time. In particular Sir David Phillips (then Chief Constable of Kent Constabulary) saw the NIM as an opportunity to restore the status of detectives and the criminal investigation department. However, the NIM, actively promoted by the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers, established a business model that situated criminal intelligence and analysis – rather than criminal investigation – at the center of police decision-making and crime fighting (Harfield and Harfield 2008; NCIS 2000).

In the USA, the move toward intelligence-led policing has been hampered by a number of factors, both historical and organizational. The Church Report, which investigated the activities of the FBI’s counterintelligence program that ran through the 1950s and 1960s, identified numerous shortcomings of the management of criminal intelligence programs. Furthermore, many police departments in the USA were sued under civil rights legislation for maintaining files on people with no criminal involvement (Carter and Carter 2009; Ratcliffe 2008a). There still exists to this day a distrust of police involvement in any activities labeled as “intelligence” (irrespective of how this is defined) both from some members of the community and, as a result, from within the justice system. For many years, the National Institute of Justice and other federal agencies have preferred to refer to ILP with the more vague and inaccurate term “information-led policing” (intelligence is information that has gone through a process of analysis to determine relevance and context to a crime problem).

Organizationally, the fragmented and disorganized way that law enforcement has evolved in the USA has influenced the development of many policing innovations. If the USA had the same population/police department ratio as the UK, it would have fewer than 300 police departments and not in excess of 18,000. Many of these departments consist of fewer than ten sworn officers, and as such their lack of size hampers the development of an intelligence capacity to support ILP. Furthermore, as Carter and Carter (2009) point out, in the USA there is no legacy of widespread intelligence use, the intelligence function has until recently been poorly defined, and there exists to this day a lack of training and expertise to develop the necessary function.

The plethora of small departments with no intelligence capability and neither a tradition nor expertise in said function has steered American development of ILP to emphasize intelligence sharing rather than strategic crime control. A central report that propelled ILP acceptance across the USA was called the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan. The executive summary did not emphasize the needs of efficiency in the face of rising crime, as had the British reports a decade previously. Rather, it alluded to the perceived intelligence failures that led to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and how that day “initiated a concerted effort by American law enforcement agencies to correct the inadequacies and barriers that impede information and intelligence sharing” (GIWG 2003, emphasis added). Tapping into the Zeitgeist may have enhanced readership, but it led many in US law enforcement to incorrectly assume that intelligence-led policing was predominantly a counterterrorism strategy, one that had little to do with many US policing environments.

A positive development of the concerns about lack of intelligence sharing has been the development of the fusion center concept. Locally in the USA, the initial response to 9/11 was overwhelmingly to invest in infrastructure support for first responders and to provide a protective function at locations perceived to be sensitive: there was no major investment in an offender-focused capacity. But with time, the development of intelligence capabilities has continued, both within individual police departments and regionally. The regional capacity has been enhanced with the development of fusion centers, defined as “a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise, and/or information to the center with the goal of maximizing the ability to detect, prevent, apprehend, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity” (DoJ 2005: 3). Within the homeland security context, due to the localized and decentralized nature of American policing, local government is more suited to protective functions of places rather than building a capacity to identify and target specific offenders. However, with at least 72 fusion centers now across the USA, fusion centers have (at least in theory) the capacity to develop intelligence packages focused on serious and recidivist offenders across the region, a capacity often beyond the abilities of local police departments. One of their guidelines is to “provide a multi-tiered awareness and educational program to implement intelligence-led policing and the development and sharing of information” (DoJ 2005: 7).

Distinctive Features

ILP arose as a response to the failure of the standard model of policing (Ratcliffe 2008a). The standard model emphasized random patrol, rapid uniformed response, deployment of officers to crime investigations, and reliance on enforcement and the legal system to reduce crime. The failure of the standard model in the 1960s and 1970s paved the way for a variety of responses, ultimately including ILP. In particular, ILP emphasizes the need to focus on serious and repeat offenders rather than a broad-brush reaction to crime events after they have occurred. In other words, targeting the right offenders will help police proactively address much of the crime these offenders commit. Empirical support for this assertion can be found in the classic studies of criminal careers. The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development found that frequent offenders had not only a high offense rate but also a relatively low likelihood of desisting their criminal careers after each conviction. From the original group of nearly 10,000 boys studied by Wolfgang et al. (1972) in Philadelphia, only 627 (6.3 %) were identified as chronic offenders, but this group were responsible for 52% of all offenses recorded against the entire cohort. The largest study, following various UK cohorts, found that by the time British men (born in 1953) reached their 31st birthday, 7 % would have at least six convictions against them, and this group accounted for 65 % of all convictions for their birth year.

A second component of ILP is the need for a business model for policing in order to influence the key resource allocation choices: “Intelligence process in law enforcement cannot be merely a voyage of discovery but demands predictability in the delivery and content of intelligence products for managers’ decision-making” (Flood and Gaspar 2009: 60). This then requires knowledge of a further distinctive feature, a cross-jurisdictional strategic focus, as evidenced by the enthusiasm for ILP among many officers deployed to fusion centers.

With regard to Compstat, there are some organizational similarities between ILP and Compstat. For example, in both models leadership at the highest echelons, commitment to crime prevention, and accountability at midlevel command are important. However, Carter and Carter (2009) identify a number of distinguishing features, including ILP being multijurisdictional and threat driven (i.e., proactive and focused on anticipating criminality) whereas Compstat is intra-jurisdictional and crime driven, and ILP being strategic and more focused on criminal enterprises while Compstat is time sensitive and focused on street crime.

ILP is quite distinctive from community policing, and there is some discussion about where complimentary components exist (Carter 2009; Ratcliffe 2008a). Community policing places a high value on, and allocates considerable resources to, developing collaborative relationships with members of the community. Recent developments of ILP in the UK recognize the benefits of these collaborative relationships for holistic crime prevention, but as yet do not necessarily incorporate the development and sustenance of those collaborative relationships into ILP programs. There does appear to be agreement that in the area of counterterrorism, the relationships built up over years of community policing work are invaluable to information gathering. Yet where ILP seems a more centralized and objective method of resource allocation and priority triage, community policing emphasized local initiatives across a wide spectrum of policing areas and other (sometimes non-policing) concerns. ILP and problem-oriented policing share a number of objectives, and the overlap between these strategies is considerable, perhaps with the exclusion of the focus on serious and repeat offenders. It is a key component of ILP but one of an optional suite of solutions from the perspective of problem-oriented policing.

ILP is supported by a number of models, both conceptual and functional. The three-i model is a conceptual model that places the intelligence cycle into the business of policing. The three-i model of interpret, influence, and impact requires analysts and intelligence staff not only to interpret the criminal environment but also to influence the thinking of key decision-makers with their analysis. The final stage involves the decision-maker assigning tasks and allocating resources with the aim of having an impact on the criminal environment (for more information, see Ratcliffe 2008a). This idealized conceptual model is operationalized by the UK National Intelligence Model (NIM) (NCPE 2005). The NIM also has multiple levels to recognize the complexity of the modern criminal world. Level 1 deals with local criminality, level 2 addresses cross-border crime between agencies, and level 3 relates to serious and organized crime at national and international levels. The NIM has particular intelligence products for analysts to complete as well as roles for knowledge, system, source, and people assets. All of this is designed to address key ILP targets of individual criminals and criminal groups, crime and disorder hotspots, identified crime series, and the application of preventative measures (Flood and Gaspar 2009).

Critiques And Responses

As with any initiative, ILP is not without its critics. Writing during the early years of ILP development, James lamented the lack of research on which to base the hopes of improved police efficiency through the new (at least in 2003) intelligence focus and the National Intelligence Model (James 2003). He also raised concerns about the increased use of police informants and civil liberties issues with the potential for ILP to increase intrusion into the lives of citizens, a critique that has been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (Guidetti and Martinelli 2009). Few doubt that work is always required to improve the management, handling, and operationalization of informants (Maguire and John 1995) and that effective mechanisms to manage intelligence files are essential (Carter 2009), but equally there is considerable sensitivity to this issue within local and state law enforcement in the USA, and a return to the COINTELPRO days of unfettered police surveillance seems unlikely (COINTELPRO is an acronym for the now discredited FBI political surveillance and disruption Counter Intelligence Program of the 1950s and 1960s).

From the perspective of 2003 and given journal publication times, one can estimate that James was writing at a time when the NIM had been unveiled no more than a couple of years before. As such, his measured concerns are largely an apt warning for more oversight of the police development of intelligence-led policing in the future. Indeed he notes at the time that “Forces favour strategies that appear to be rational, intelligence-led, based on empirical analyses and responsive to public need” (James 2003: 55). He continues to question the empirical basis for ILP, as did Ratcliffe a year earlier writing in regard to “the absence of a conceptual framework for intelligence-driven policing that is supported by an evidence-based theory. The dearth of any empirical and contextual research into the effectiveness of intelligence-led policing in either the academic or professional literature leaves the police with little option other than to experiment and do the best they can” (Ratcliffe 2002: 64).

Research on the police intelligence function and on police operations has made considerable progress in the last decade. As a result, the theoretical foundations of ILP have also developed over the last decade. An increased police willingness to allow researchers to evaluate their tactics and operations has dramatically improved knowledge on what works in policing, and numerous examples are relevant. For example, an evaluation of Operation Anchorage in Canberra, Australia, found that when police focused on burglary hotspots and used surveillance teams and investigative resources to target known repeat burglars, they were able to reduce burglaries in the city by 53 per week (from an average of around 150). Moreover, this reduction lasted for 45 weeks after the operation concluded, most likely due to the incarceration of a number of high-volume offenders (Makkai et al. 2004). At least 25 chronic offenders involved with an innercity drug market in the Brightwood section of Indianapolis were targeted with a covert police interdiction and subsequent arrest swoop. The impact of removing these long-time repeat offenders was substantial, with a statistically significant reduction in calls for service for burglary, guns, violence, and robbery across the neighborhood for 2 years (Nunn et al. 2006).

A development of direct offender targeting is the pulling levers strategy. This approach focuses the attention of the criminal justice system on a few key chronic offenders in an attempt to encourage their deterrence from criminal activity. Evaluations have been generally positive, and this initiative is spreading across the USA and a number of other countries (Kennedy 2006, 2009).

An additional component of ILP is the identification and targeting of police attention to crime hot spots. This aspect of ILP in enshrined as a key component of the UK National Intelligence Model. The targeting of resources to crime hot spots has a growing evidence base, in a subfield termed hot spot policing (Taylor et al. 2010; Weisburd and Braga 2006). The weight of evidence has some even calling in the USA for a national hot spot policing strategy (Mastrofski et al. 2010). The experimental basis for this claim continues to grow. For example, the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, a summer-long strategic management program to place foot patrol officers at violent crime hotspots, reduced violence by 23 % compared to equivalent control areas (Ratcliffe et al. 2011). And Operation Nine Connect, an extensive surveillance operation that resulted in over 100 arrests, effectively broke up a gang identified by intelligence analysts as an emerging threat and the most violent in New Jersey (Ratcliffe and Guidetti 2008).

So while at least initially in the development of ILP, some research suggested that police attempts to identify key offenders to target were fairly crude (Ratcliffe 2005; Townsley and Pease 2002), more recent evidence appears more hopeful that more “strategic, future oriented and targeted” (Maguire 2000: 315) tactics are emerging. A fruitful path would appear to blend all of these elements, with police identifying crime hot spots and then paying particular attention to the chronic offenders who commit offenses within that area.

Some analysts have critiqued ILP by comparison to the military arena, lamenting that “intelligence” within the policing environment is not well defined (a problem previously identified some years earlier in Ratcliffe 2008a) and that police intelligence analysts would be overstepping their role by making crime prevention recommendations to police managers. As noted by Mark Evans (Evans 2009: 194), bringing both his military and police experience to bear, “in general such thinking mainly reflects weak analytical product, a relatively unsophisticated decision-making model and a lack of understanding about the purpose and value of recommendations.” The military comparison is not relevant because while intelligence has long been a staple of the military and national security areas, the use of intelligence is a “contemporary phenomenon” in modern law enforcement Christopher and Cope (2009: 236). As a result, law enforcement commanders are less likely to be familiar with the use of intelligence resources to guide decision-making. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that they have received any training in this area, given the near total absence of courses available to police managers on problem-oriented policing, intelligence-led policing, or general crime prevention and reduction (Ratcliffe 2004). There is a distinction between an analyst making recommendations and a police officer making decisions (Cope 2004).

Sklansky (2011) worries that ILP (and predictive policing) represents a move toward a technologically driven new version of the “profession model” of policing and away from the philosophies and tenets of community policing. Like James (2003), the concerns are more abstract and serve as an abject warning to policing not to lose the community legitimacy gains of recent years in a wave of technological wizardry and policing by objectives. The challenge may be getting police commanders to embrace “advanced community policing” (Sklansky 2011: 12) anew, when it has not been shown to reduce crime measurably and when police chiefs are facing budgetary constraints and calls for greater efficiency and demonstrated productivity. The issue may rather be the mechanism by which community policing and ILP are integrated. As one commentator has written, “community policing has developed skills in many law enforcement officers that directly support new ILP responsibilities” (Carter 2009: 86).

Future Directions

The future of ILP rests with police leadership and their enthusiasm to adopt more objective, evidence-driven decision paths rather than value-based decision-making (Guidetti and Martinelli 2009). With an explosion of technology-based platforms to manage ever-greater volumes of information, there is a threat that fusion centers, real time crime centers, and intelligence analysts general fall prey to a “na¨ıve empiricism” where information volume trumps quality resulting in an inability to distinguish between information and intelligence (Gill 2000: 211). In this future a balance has to be struck between new data sources (“new knowledge” such as crime mapping and statistical analysis) that tell us a great deal about what is going on in our world and policing’s “old knowledge” (such as confidential informants and community intelligence) that can tell us why the patterns we see are emerging (Ratcliffe 2008b). In this role of answering why, it is increasingly clear to scholars of policing that criminal investigators have a role beyond that of case-by-case delivery of justice. Rather than simply investigating individual cases and arresting suspects, detectives have insight into broader patterns and emerging crime trends that can have wider strategic significance.

At present, while strategic assessments are key to the NIM and ILP, many analysts are not involved in strategic analysis tasks, a problem that exists not just in the UK but across most of the developed world. The same can be said for intelligence officers at fusion centers across the USA. Fusion centers are an indication of a more nodal form of governance of the security problem (Wood and Shearing 2007). Where before the police maintained a hegemonic status, now myriad agencies, both government and nongovernment, public and private, have a role in domestic crime control and security. A risk-based approach to the crime problem, such as intelligence-led policing, has a key role in this future. “The problem is that American law enforcement is neither structurally nor substantively ready to support the ILP infrastructure. Just like a building, the foundation must first be in place” (Carter 2009: 82). There is still therefore a pressing need for greater education of intelligence analysts and staff, and even more so of the police leaders that command them, before ILP can demonstrate its full potential.


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