Intelligence-Led Policing: A Policing Innovation

Intelligence-Led Policing: A Policing Innovation

Author: Jeremy G. Carter
Publisher: El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2013. 190p.
Reviewer: Scott W. Phillips | July 2014

Jeremy Carter provides an examination of intelligence-led policing, an innovation for police agencies that was first developed in the United Kingdom as a method for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of police agencies to deal with crime. The notion of intelligence-led policing (ILP) is in line with the string of methodologies that expect the police to apply “analysis” to reduce crime or the social conditions that lead to crime. A rough chronology of these methodologies would show that the SARA model, associated with the community policing and problem-solving approaches in the 1980s, included an analytic component for dealing with the conditions that contributed to disorder and crime. Compstat, instituted in New York City in the early 1990s, was constructed to include analysis as part of a model to hold managers accountable for crime in their districts. In the late 1990s scholars wrote about Evidence Based Policing, which argued for using a scientific approach to analyze information to develop specific crime-reduction tactics. ILP in the United Kingdom began to develop in the late 1990s, and was adopted in some ways in the United States shortly thereafter. However, the events of September 11, 2001 solidified the need for analysis in law enforcement as part of the shift toward Homeland Security. More recently, Smart Policing seeks to use analysis and technology to prevent and solve crime.

Carter’s study of ILP is guided by the experiences of police agencies and scholars when community policing entered the realm of police agencies in the 1980s. First, both community policing and intelligence-led policing are considered “philosophical” shifts in how the police function. Both require a change in the fundamental role of the police from being response-oriented to using various pieces of information to anticipate, prevent, or deal with problems. If there is a substantive difference between community policing and ILP, it is that community policing seemed to focus on localized disorder problems or crimes. ILP can be applied to small-scale problems, large-scale criminal organizations, and strategic threats related to terrorism.

Second, when community policing arrived on the scene many police agencies had, at the very least, heard of the tactic, but did not necessarily understand the underlying dimensions of this approach. As a result many police departments stated that they had integrated community policing, but their efforts were half-hearted or even an illusion. Carter suggests this may be occurring with ILP. It is possible that police agencies are labeling themselves as intelligence-led agencies, but they only do this to sustain legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Carter’s study, fundamentally, examines the adoption and implementation of ILP in the United States at the local level. While there is a small but growing body of scholarship on the subject, particularly the use of ILP in other countries, the implementation of an innovation experiences peculiarities because of the system of government in the United States. The local control of American police agencies substantially complicates the diffusion of an innovation that may have a narrow or focused style. A police agency can choose to adopt an innovation program, modify the innovation in order to adopt it, say they are adopting the innovation but offer only symbolic components of the program, or simply decline to adopt the innovation. Carter’s book offers a small window into the adoption of ILP and the organizational and structural characteristics of police agencies that may contribute to the acceptance of ILP in the United States.

Prior to adoption and implementation, an agency must know about an innovation, have a reason to integrate it into the agency’s structure, and have the capacity to execute the innovation. Carter utilized “diffusion” variables to examine the “why” and “how” questions related to adoption. The explanation for “why” police agencies adopt ILP is assessed with two variables. First, the police agency perceives a threat in the region. With the apparent simultaneous advent of homeland security and ILP, police agencies may be more concerned with threats to their region as opposed to maintaining a “local” view of problems. Thus, adopting ILP may seem logical to a police department.

The second factor is itself innovative: risk mediation. That is, under ILP, police agencies are expected to gather and share information regarding people who are not yet the target of a criminal investigation. This use of intelligence by police units harkens back to the behavior of some police agencies in the 1960s and 1970s when “big brother” kept “dossiers” on civil rights protesters. A police agency that now wants to use information to deal with problems, large-scale criminal organizations and strategic threats, must institute a formal approach to protect the agency from lawsuits. Essentially, measuring “risk management” as an explanation for why a police agency would adopt ILP is a metric of organizational CYA. Commonly, police agencies will behave in a way that sustains or regains organizational legitimacy, and this was discussed by Carter in his review of community policing and ILP. Still, if a police department enacted a program that was more ceremonial than substantive, it was not likely to be held civilly responsible for that behavior. However, if a police agency appears to be collecting and sharing “intelligence,” even if it is only to provide a ceremonial appearance of organizational legitimacy, it may be accused of civil rights violations. A police agency may adopt a formal ILP approach to mitigate these accusations. Carter’s work appears to expose a Catch-22 for police agencies. A police agency may want to appear legitimate to their external environment by saying they are doing ILP. But, if the agency promotes this to the public without a formal ILP program and its associated policies and safeguards, they expose themselves to civil litigation. Thus, if a police agency says they are doing ILP, the may very well have to do it formally and correctly.

Once a police agency has decided “why” they need to adopt an innovation, they have to consider “how” they will successfully adopt the innovation within the agency. Carter included two diffusion measures to explore this. The first, “peer emulation,” examines the informal communications that one agency has with another agency that has already adopted ILP. Second, “familiarity” with ILP is an intuitive concept that demonstrates “forward-thinking.” Familiarity is conceptually distinct from peer emulation in that the administration may know of ILP from various sources, but use peer emulation to mimic how other agencies have adopted it.

Carter then points out an important consideration for future researchers that may use “why” and “how” variables to explain the diffusion and adoption of ILP (or any other innovation). The causal ordering of the variables is difficult to specify. In fact, “the four diffusion types can serve as an initiator of innovation as well as a facilitator of innovation.” Thus, while these diffusion variables can be illuminating for our understanding of adoption and implementation, scholars will have to be cognizant of how they are used.

Carter’s exploration of ILP adoption and implementation also included a variety of organizational structure and context variables. Agency implementation of ILP was associated with formal policies guiding the intelligence function. It is possible that this result is a function of the Catch-22 mentioned above: if a police agency is to properly implement ILP there must be formal policies associated with it. A second structural variable associated with ILP implementation is functional differentiation. Carter suggests that ILP implementation is associated with police agencies that have specific personnel assigned to intelligence tasks. A key contextual variable associated with adoption was organizational commitment. While a link between commitment and implementation is beyond common sense, it is helpful to know that the research supports this notion.

There are also some non-significant findings in Carter’s study that must be discussed. First, Carter’s measure of “training,” while significant in a restricted “organizational context” model, appears unimportant to the implementation of ILP when all variables are integrated into a single predictive model. It seems intuitive that training would contribute to adoption. Carter, however, suggests that other organizational constructs, such as policy development, and peer emulation, may be a function of training. Training therefore may explain why these other variables were significant in the model, while training itself was not. Further, Carter cautions that the training metric may be a measure of training as a “priority” within a police agency rather than a measure of the amount or type of training used by the police agencies.

The second non-significant measure is “agency size.” As with training, it seems intuitive that one would expect that larger police agencies more readily adopt or implement ILP. This finding is telling. Larger police agencies commonly have access to resources, training, and dedicated units within the department what would naturally house a crime analyst. These factors would make it easier for a large police agency to implement ILP. The finding that agency size is unimportant to adoption suggests that most police agencies are attempting ILP, regardless of resource availability.

As with any study, particularly explorations of relatively new innovations or initiatives, there are some limitations in Carter’s work, which he readily acknowledges. First, the data source is a purposive sample of police agencies that attended a Department of Homeland security training program. National-level samples of police agencies are notoriously difficult to cultivate, and Carter’s study is not an unreasonable means of building a baseline of information regarding the implementation of ILP in the United States. Future scholars will have to find ways to improve on his 17 percent response rate for this study. Second, Carter reviewed two case-study locations as a mixed-methods approach to improve our understanding of implementation. The use of “fusion centers” fills a gap in what is known about the administration and working environment of these agencies. However, making a direct comparison with Carter’s findings from the empirical data is not possible with the case study information.

Overall, the author has provided some reasonable baseline information for the adoption and implementation of ILP in the United States, as well as some notion of what is missing from the current literature. Future scholars can take Carter’s benchmark work and develop methods for improving upon what we learn here. The simplest direction for future research is to improve upon some of the measures available to Carter. For example, as he would no doubt argue, improved measures for “training” are warranted. More complex replication or expansion of his efforts can come with specific organizational theories guiding the research. For example, Carter touches on the body of diffusion research that examines innovations. Other scholars might endeavor to study aspects of isomorphism to determine if police agencies move toward the use if ILP because of coercive, mimetic, or normative motivations. Still others may move beyond implementation and examine the effectiveness of this approach. Regardless of the direction of study, Jeremy Carter’s work provides some fundamental aspects of ILP that need to be considered when developing research projects in this area.

Scott W. Phillips, Associate Professor, SUNY – Buffalo State

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