What is to be done?

I’ve recently been speaking to a number of law enforcement intelligence analysts, specifically about the generally poor adoption of intelligence into their planning, operations and decision making in their agencies as well as their continued second class status.

The latest example is something of which is called ‘Preventive Policing’ which claims to incorporate a number of disciplines in order to create a more efficient way to fight crime.

Predictive policing is a relatively new law enforcement concept that integrates approaches such as cutting-edge crime analysis, crime fighting technology, intelligence-lead policing and more to inform forward thinking crime prevention strategies and tactics.

The problem, as I see it, is that one shouldn’t attempt to tackle a complex, multi-faceted problem unless you’re reasonably sure you can competently perform all of its constituent parts.  For example, Intelligence Led Policing has been bandied about in the United States for ten or so years and has been identified as a key component of ‘Preventive Policing’ yet I’ve seen no evidence that there’s more than a handful of agencies in the country that are systematically using ILP.  Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  In fact, I haven’t heard of a single agency which has fully adopted ILP in the U.S..

And yet, now we’re being told that ILP is old news and there’s this new (improved!) type of policing which will solve our problems.  But how can this new system be implemented if nobody can even manage to apply one of its components?  Perhaps there’s something else going on here.

Allow me to hypothesize that this has very little to do with actual policing policy or crime.  For a number of years now, law enforcement agencies have been given millions of dollars in federal aid in order to create and implement systems like Intelligence Led Policing into their agencies.  There’s only so many times an agency can draw from that well and claim they need more money.  How many times can you apply for grant money with the goal of implementing a program?  At some point, a drawn out implementation process begins to look like intentional foot dragging…or incompetence.

So, how can agencies manage to keep getting that financial mana from heaven without actually having to do anything (other than fill out reams of paperwork)?  Simple, as it becomes harder to justify continued largess for programs which should have been implemented years earlier, one needs to propose a brand new program which can reset the clock.

—-

Several years ago I was in a conversation with a mid-level manager for a law enforcement agency who was given authority to hire some intelligence analysts.  Given his agency had been unsatisfied with previously hired analysts I recommended a thorough evaluation of the tasks he expected analysts to be able to do, the skills they should possess initially and in order to grow with the agency and the methodology they used in order to identify those skills in the interview process.  There was a very real possibility that their existing selection and hiring process was seriously flawed and in need of a major overhaul.

That recommendation was rejected under the premise that the authorization to hire analysts could be withdrawn at any time.  The priority, therefore, was to get bodies into cubicles as fast as possible.  When I argued that five poor analysts might be worse than no analysts at all, the response I got was enlightening.  This manager was simply unable to understand that point of view.  How could more resources (even if substandard) ever be bad?  Even if complete incompetents were hired that reduced efficiency of the officer were hired it would be a net good for the organization since the precedent would be set for a larger staff.  Eventually, the weak analysts would leave (after all, they’d be eligible for retirement in 25 years) and in the mean time we could work on improving the interview/hiring process but the iron was hot and it was time to strike.

Hiring was done through a mix of patronage, personal relationships and unexamined assumptions (‘Hey!  How cool would we look if we could get a retired investigator from agency X?!  Hire him!’)

—————

How can we even talk about intelligence led anything when this, far too often, is the system by which analysts are brought into agencies?  These are not characteristics of a serious, systematic attempt to approach a problem.  They are window dressing.  Smoke and mirrors.  A dog and pony show.

Well, enough is enough.

No longer can analysts remain their passive, introverted selves hoping that incremental change will result in the creation of a system which we are constantly told is required to prevent both crime and terrorism.  Either it is or it isn’t.  Either analysts and the process of intelligence analysis are key components to 21st century policing and national security policy or they aren’t.  If agencies are just looking to use analysts as props to point to for public relations and funding purposes let’s be clear about it, at least within our own community if no where else.

There are a few professional organizations that are intended to further the cause of analysis within law enforcement circles but I’ve never been particularly enamored with them primarily because I’ve interpreted their primary function as not wanting to rock the boat.  Their approach, as it appears to me, is to gently bring the whole community forward together like a day care class being led down the street, everyone holding hands.  But there’s little opportunity for analysts to push the system in which they find themselves.  Analysts have (either by accident or design) not been particularly effective in creating a larger community which has a voice and serious influence within the law enforcement community, leaving them, in effect, mute.

Clearly, that hasn’t been working so I would recommend that such organizations get a bit more militant.

  • The community needs a clear, precise definition of Intelligence Led Policing and also equally clear metrics upon which agencies can be measured
  • A good certification program for analysts (which means you probably aren’t going to get an analyst via FIAT or other 2 week courses).  The FBI takes 9 weeks to train an analyst.  The Army takes 16 weeks.  And that’s to be an entry level one at that.  The old source material was far too parochial in its breadth of ideas.  Also, continuing education should be required.
  • A process by which agencies can be evaluated for their progress in integrating intelligence into their operations.

No more should we allow agencies to take their old methods of operation, slap an intelligence sticker on it and win national praise (and tax dollars).  IALEIA should develop those standards, invite agencies to be measured against them and publish the findings.  If agencies refuse to participate and continue to make unsubstantiated claims, IALEIA should conduct those assessments anyway through partnership with other organizations and independent analysis using FOIA and state/local equivalents.  If they meet (or are progressing to meet) the criteria for integrating intelligence into their decision making and operations then they can get the associations ‘seal of approval’.  If they don’t or are backsliding, well, they can get a mark of shame.

IALEIA shouldn’t hesitate in acting out of fear of risking their ‘seat at the table’ either (assuming they have one).  The fact that they’ve been moved from a high chair to a seat at the dinner table doesn’t mean they have one iota more influence in determining when or what they’ll have for dinner.  They just have a slightly different view.

Organizations like IALEIA need to free their inner watchdog rather than continue their role as obedient lapdogs.*

After all, they have nothing to lose but their chains…

*I should probably say at this point that I know, like and respect a whole bunch of IALEIA members.  I just find their organization has become a vehicle for enabling shoddy analysis on the part of the law enforcement community and does not do any service to new analysts entering the field in terms of providing them with the skills or expectations in order to get them to push the profession forward.

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2 responses to “What is to be done?

  1. Christopher Bruce

    “Their approach, as it appears to me, is to gently bring the whole community forward together like a day care class being led down the street, everyone holding hands.”

    Are you even an IACA member? Why do you link to our web site and then mention only IALEIA in the rest of the psoting? In the last six years, the IACA has worked to set aggressive standards in crime analysis, with a tough certification program, a multi-week Professional Training Series, a comprehensive book, and other products and resources. I have repeatedly stressed in my speeches and publications that crime analysts must take a leadership role in their agencies and, as you put it, stop being their “passive, introverted selves.”

    How do you imagine that analysts are going to make such advancements WITHOUT a professional association? All of them individually?

    Your cynicism over predictive–not “preventive”–policing may be well-deserved, but your comments about professional associations are not.

  2. No, I’m not a member of any professional association. You are correct in that I spent the vast amount of my focus on IALEIA because 1) I’m most familiar with them and 2) I wanted to note that IACA could be the organization which picks up the slack. Overall however, I’m sorry but my impression is that the whole field suffers from weak standards. Forgive me but I don’t see ‘tough standards’ for either agency’s certification process.

    I do think there is a role for professional associations but right now those associations function as enablers for poorly performing agencies and so do little more than provide a CYA function for them. Analysts and any professional associations have a very difficult job ahead of them if they want to overcome the deeply entrenched bureaucracy they find themselves in. They have little in the way of numbers, track record, experience or political patrons. Acting passively or hoping isolated, individual analysts will make significant changes hasn’t worked so far and I see little reason to believe the same tactics will change things in the future.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t individual analysts doing good work or even occasionally influencing policy but that’s very different from having analysts embedded in the decision making and operational process.

    We’re ten years past 9/11 which was supposed to have changed everything yet really how different are we apart from a whole lot more sizzle and very little steak?

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