It's Evident


William Berger, Chief of Police, Palm Bay, FL

As a career law enforcement officer with over thirty years of law enforcement experience, I have witnessed the evolution of police responses to events or initiatives that mandated specific responses. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001 changed law enforcement as we have known it.

Before September 11, 2001, the prominent focus of law enforcement was Community Policing. Intelligence operations and units concentrated on narcotics, organized crime, or simple crime analysis. Community Policing featured inclusiveness, transparency, and trust; it worked on removing barriers between the public and law enforcement. Intelligence and intelligence gathering emphasized crime analysis and the identification of criminals or criminal patterns. A few larger agencies were able to set up Intelligence Units or they assigned individuals, whose total responsibility was to gather information on persons involved in organized crime or some type of domestic terrorists groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan, Skinheads or motorcycle groups. The attack on American soil changed all that. Now, the term “intelligence” focuses solely on the threat of international terrorism.

The facts uncovered after 9/11 indicated that the perpetrators were embedded into communities, associated with fellow conspirators without imprinting, operating under the radar. The intelligence structure had failed in every aspect. Much of the intelligence was stored in private sector databases; later on it was stored in government-controlled databases. Larger police departments established operations consisting of one intelligence officer or a unit of several persons. Most were civilian, non-sworn personnel and many were self-taught.

Terrorism issues were primarily handled by federal organizations such as the CIA, FBI, and NSA. Regional areas like Miami-Dade County, where acts of terrorism were rampant against persons who support the country of Cuba, and which required local and state intelligence agencies, were the exception. These were limited to specific locales due to political threats and advocacies. However, that all changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The need for a National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (“Plan”) was recognized as critical after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. A concerted effort was initiated by American law enforcement agencies to correct the inadequacies and barriers that impede information and intelligence sharing.

In Spring 2002, when I was the President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), law enforcement executives and intelligence experts attending the Criminal Intelligence Sharing Summit, recognized that local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies, and the organizations that represent them must work towards common goals of: 1) gathering information, 2) producing intelligence, and 3) sharing that intelligence with other law enforcement and public safety agencies. Summit participants pushed for the creation of a nationally coordinated criminal intelligence council that would develop and oversee a national intelligence plan. In response to this crucial need, the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) Intelligence Working Group (GIWG) was formed. Local, state and tribal law enforcement representatives were key participants in the development of the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan.

Many state law enforcement agencies and all federal agencies tasked with intelligence gathering and assessment responsibilities have, due to the 9/11 incident, established intelligence functions within their organizations. However, approximately 75% of the law enforcement agencies in the United States have less than 24 sworn officers, and more often than not, these agencies do not have staff dedicated to intelligence functions. Officers in these smaller, local agencies interact with the public in the communities they patrol on a daily basis. Providing local agencies with the tools and resources necessary for developing, gathering, accessing, receiving, and sharing intelligence information is critically important to improving public safety and homeland security.

During a February 2003 speech, then President George W. Bush pledged to make information sharing an important tool in the nation’s war on terror. “All across our country we’ll be able to tie our terrorist information to local information banks so that the front line in defeating terror becomes activated and real, and those are the local law enforcement officials. We expect them to be part of our effort; we must give them the tools necessary so they can do their job.” The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan is a key tool that law enforcement agencies can employ to support their crime-fighting and public safety efforts. That speech and a commitment by then Attorney John Ashcroft launched the National Intelligence Sharing Plan which in 2008 was renamed the Intelligence Led Policing (ILP) initiative, whereby it transformed itself from a terrorism nexus to an all crimes intelligence initiative. ILP can be defined as a collaborative law enforcement approach combining problem-solving, policing, information sharing and police accountability.

Moving forward to the present … 2010 … the new administration has different priorities but is extremely focused on the perilous times we are in as witnessed by the response to the Christmas Day Bomber incident. The common thread that has been continually emphasized since 9/11, is the determination to develop intelligence to proactively intercept terrorism or criminal activity before it occurs.

The problem, however, is that law enforcement is connected both psychologically and for work product documentation to the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). The report created in the 1930s by the FBI, requires law enforcement agencies to report on various crimes that are committed in their jurisdiction along with clearance rates and population numbers. But all of these requirements are based on crimes committed and not crimes being prevented.

The recent Christmas Day Bomber incident illustrated this when much criticism was directed at the failure to identify the perpetrator before he boarded the Detroit bound international flight. This failure occurred despite the fact that terrorism intelligence had been developed on the suspect, mimicking a failure to connect the dots, which continues to exist today throughout various levels of intelligence gathering. Agencies starting at the international level, followed by national to state, and finally to local agencies, still do not fully trust each other. Also, the mechanism for collecting criminal intelligence data is flawed. There are over 17,000 state and local police departments, each of which has its own Computer Aided Dispatch system ranging from a written card system to enhanced Windows-based systems. The problem is that there is no inter-connectibility between agencies. Couple this with the fact that there are separate record storage systems, and quite frankly, criminal intelligence, which includes intelligence on potential terrorism threats, groups or individuals. This information, most likely, is embedded in some agency’s database.

In addition, there is the issue of protecting civil rights and privacy, both of which are highlighted under Federal Regulations 28 CFR part 23. These regulations are both necessary and important if we are to safeguard the rights of persons or organizations under the Constitution. Again, looking at a composite of United States’ law enforcement, many agencies are not aware of these regulations or they do not screen information that may be intelligence-related. The latter, of course, precludes sharing information.

In conclusion, the gathering of intelligence is not as easy as it appears on television shows such as 24. Intelligence is hard to define and it is difficult to move through a multi-layer system of bureaucracy. It is difficult to ensure safeguards to prevent abuse and misuse. Despite all the obstacles, intelligence must be cultivated and validated to circumvent the potential for another 9/11, Oklahoma City, or Columbine High School incident.