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10 steps to effective intelligence-led policing (ILP)

By following these 10 steps, your police department can get ahead of crime trends in your community


In 2007, San Diego police used ILP to tackle an increase in violence tied to Asian gangs.

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

By Police1 Staff

One of the most important law enforcement philosophies to effectively fight crime is intelligence-led policing. Popularized in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks, ILP was originally viewed as an effective counterterrorism strategy, but is now applied to a broad number of issues police agencies deal with on a daily basis.

What ILP boils down to, according to Dr. Jeremy Carter, the author of “Intelligence-Led Policing: A Policing Innovation” and associate professor and director of criminal justice at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is a policing philosophy that’s driven by collecting information from a variety of sources and analyzing it in order to predict and understand threats in your community.

“The idea behind ILP is that you cast this wider or more encompassing net of potential information inputs and you push that information into some type of analytic process, and the result of that analytic process creates intelligence,” Carter told Police1. “That’s a key distinction – raw information is just information. It’s a tip, it’s a lead. But it has to go through some sort of analytic process to become intelligence. And the idea behind intelligence is that it creates actionable things – what a police department can do specific to a problem, a threat, complex criminality, or whatever it’s being applied to.”

In its report on how intelligence-led policing reduces crime, the Bureau of Justice Assistance listed 10 steps for the successful deployment of intelligence-led policing initiatives, including problem clarity, effective intelligence and continuous assessment. The BJA looked at agencies of varying size and organizational and operational structures that serve as case studies law enforcement agencies can use as models for their own implementation of ILP.

Here’s a breakdown of these 10 steps, as well as some examples from the report to demonstrate how your agency can apply ILP to get ahead of crime trends in your community.

1. Problem clarity

It’s not enough to know your community has a problem – it must be clearly understood before you can take the proper action to address it.

For example, in 2007, the city of San Diego was dealing with an increase in violence tied to Asian gangs. The first step for the San Diego Police Department was to thoroughly assess the problem before moving forward with a plan. Through that assessment, the agency found that gang leaders and key players weren’t being identified or specifically targeted in its gang enforcement operations. The agency recognized that tackling the uptick in violence required a more organized approach (enforcement activity was uncoordinated and seemingly done at random). More importantly, the agency saw a need for the collection of better data, with a deeper emphasis on analysis and information sharing (detectives who transferred out of the gang unit took their information with them). The department also realized it needed to foster an environment of collaboration between different units, as well as with state and federal agencies.

2. Clearly defined goals

Once you understand the problem in your community, you need to create easily measurable goals that clearly define what you’re attempting to do.

In the SDPD case, the agency understood that to tackle the violence and dismantle the gangs responsible for it, it needed to focus on gang leadership and the “shooters” – the small number of gang members who carry out most of the violence.

3. Results-oriented tactics and strategies

After defining a goal, the next step is crafting new strategies to achieve that goal. The most important thing to keep in mind about this step is that these strategies need to be designed to directly tackle the problem – using tactics specifically tailored to the issue at hand. The SDPD had tried a number of different, broad law enforcement tactics and strategies to combat the gangs prior to implementing ILP, but none had been effective in curbing the violence. Once the problems were assessed and goals were defined, the agency knew it needed to:

  • Identify the individuals through intelligence gathering;
  • Work collaboratively within the department and with other agencies, rather than in isolation;
  • Apply maximum pressure to get the targeted individuals off the street.

4. Effective intelligence

Information collection that provides substantive insight into crime threats is the core of intelligence-led policing.

“Traditional crime analysis and investigations rely on talking to witnesses, talking to victims, talking to the offender or the accused, capturing information related to the incident, those kinds of things,” Carter said. “But the idea behind intelligence and ILP is it’s intended to be proactive and focus on threats generally. And to do that, you want to try and collect information from places that may not traditionally be considered sources of information for the police. Talking to business owners, hospitals, certain service providers, mental health clinicians – then systematically collecting information that can be used to input into some type of analytic process.”

In San Diego, this meant dramatically expanding its information sources – from local citizens to community resources – and processing that information through a higher level of analysis and sharing. It also meant the SDPD needed to launch a dedicated effort of intelligence gathering through informants. After a year of work, the gang unit had cultivated 60 informants – up from just four when the work began. Through this intelligence, they were able to identify the key players in the gangs and determine the best method to prevent or stop recalcitrant crime, according to the report.

Carter stressed that it’s important to note the distinction between crime analysis and intelligence analysis.

“Crime analysis is backward-facing – you’re looking at known data points regarding an event that happened. Intelligence analysis is looking to the future. You are forecasting or trying to predict based on information that you have. An analogy could be weather forecasting. A crime analysis approach would say, ‘OK, tell me what the weather was – temperatures, the amount of rainfall – for the past week.’ Intelligence is more the forecasting of, ‘Well, based on all these different indicators we have related to weather, we can anticipate that we will receive this much rain at these temperatures.’ The idea behind intelligence is to be proactive and to be forward-looking.”

5. Active collaboration

Another key pillar to ILP is active collaboration both internally and with other local, state and federal agencies. It may be a cliché, but it’s true: there is power in numbers. Tackling complex law enforcement issues like terrorism prevention and crime reduction successfully is likelier with a collaborative, coordinated effort. Agencies that partner with each other can leverage resources they wouldn’t have alone.

In San Diego, the gang unit completely changed how they operated – going from an isolated approach to collaborating with other investigative units, street cops, and police in other local jurisdictions and at state and federal levels to look at the links between violent crime in the city, collect and share information, and ultimately target the gang leaders and “shooters.”

6. Information sharing

Collaboration is nothing if you’re not sharing information with your partners. Like most of these steps, solutions vary from agency to agency. Information sharing could come in the form of designated sharing systems like RISS (Regional Information Sharing Systems), or it could be in the form of a fusion center. Carter said one of the most effective ways for an agency to share information is through an Intelligence Liaison Officer (ILO).

“ILOs are a designated point of contact for an agency and can help agencies get more directly to the information they’re looking for from a specific department. And then those agencies have a single point of contact where they know who to call for such information,” Carter said.

Thanks to the environment of information sharing the SDPD fostered, units within the department and agencies outside of it were all involved in the development of plans to tackle the gang issue. Information ranging from police records to interviews with local citizens and gang members were collected and shared – nothing was viewed as too small or inconsequential. The PD also looked at academic research and other gang enforcement models and applied them to its own work.

7. Holistic investigations

It’s important to think holistically when it comes to ILP. The BJA suggests merging investigations instead of having isolated units focused on one type of crime. Many criminals aren’t specialized in doing one thing. For example, auto theft has been linked to other high-impact, violent crimes. If you were looking at taking a more holistic approach to vehicle crime, it makes sense to combine auto theft units with other investigative units that handle issues linked to auto theft – like burglaries, identity theft, and financial crimes.

This holistic approach was key in the SDPD’s efforts – by fostering relationships in different investigative units within the agency, the SDPD was able to more effectively explore the connections between crimes in the city and get a bigger, clearer picture of what was happening.

8. Officer accountability

Once you’ve established clearly defined objectives, you need to hold your cops accountable for reaching them. In San Diego, it wasn’t enough to make any gang arrest – every officer was given the specific goal of taking the leadership and those responsible for the violence off the streets. As a result, gang-related violence fell dramatically in the city.

9. Continuous assessment

As with any new initiatives, it’s important to keep reviewing the ILP program and strategies you’ve implemented. Don’t let things become stagnant; diminishing returns are avoided by constantly evolving and tweaking your ILP program. According to Carter, your agency should be asking these questions:

  • Are we getting the information we want?
  • Do we need to refine our collection requirements? Do we need to think differently about the type of information we collect?
  • Are we having any type of the intended impact of what we’re trying to do?
  • Are we seeing any types of measurable outcomes?

10. Command commitment

Finally, a long-term, sustainable ILP initiative is obviously dependent on the support of leadership – even through a change in leadership. The BJA found this to be a primary concern among all 10 agencies they surveyed, and many of them addressed this issue by having an internal succession plan that ensured the incoming leadership had already committed to the ILP programs. In other agencies, leadership tenure was long enough that the ILP initiatives became institutionalized.

Another Tool in the Toolbox

If done correctly, ILP has a number of benefits for police agencies to get ahead of crime and other issues in their community.

“You have opportunities to gain efficiencies and effectiveness through the use of ILP,” Carter said. “It’s not a silver bullet by any means but it’s another tool in the toolbox. It complements other policing strategies that police take to combat violence, to combat crime, to combat problems. The true benefit is that it lends this type of qualitative or contextual component to, ‘What are we doing to combat these problems?’ driven by analysis. It helps to inform the police so that, rather than constantly reacting, they can hopefully be ahead of the curve.”

Next: Using intelligence-led policing to reduce gang violence