Section 1.5: Intelligence-Led Policing

Police Methods by Adam J. McKee

This article discusses the concept of intelligence-led policing, which is a modern approach to law enforcement that emphasizes the importance of gathering and analyzing intelligence to prevent crime. It is important for Criminal Justice students to read this article because it provides a detailed look at the role of intelligence in modern policing and how it has changed over time.

As students read this article, they should pay particular attention to the section on “Intelligence-Led Policing.”  This section provides a detailed look at the history of intelligence-led policing and how it has evolved over time. Students should also pay attention to the section on “The New Intelligence,” which provides a detailed look at the role of technology in modern policing.

Overall, this article is an excellent resource for Criminal Justice students who are interested in learning more about the role of intelligence in modern policing and how it has evolved over time. By reading this article, students will gain a better understanding of the importance of intelligence in law enforcement and how it can be used to prevent crime.

The New Intelligence 

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 revealed the life-and-death importance of enhancing U.S. intelligence operations. Since that day, a tremendous amount of attention has been focused on the need for constructive changes in law enforcement intelligence.

Intelligence operations have been reviewed, studied, and slowly but steadily transformed. Most efforts have focused on reorganizing intelligence infrastructures at the federal level; however, corresponding efforts have been made to enhance state and local law enforcement intelligence operations. Such enhancements make it possible for state and local law enforcement agencies to play a role in homeland security. Perhaps more important, improvements to intelligence operations help local law enforcement respond to “traditional” crimes more effectively. 

Because effective intelligence operations can be applied equally well to terrorist threats and crimes in the community, homeland security and local crime prevention are not mutually exclusive. Officers “on the beat” are an excellent resource for gathering information on all kinds of potential threats and vulnerabilities. However, the intelligence operations of state and local law enforcement agencies often are plagued by a lack of policies, procedures, and training for gathering and assessing essential information. 

To correct this problem, fundamental changes are needed in the way information is gathered, assessed, and redistributed. Traditional, hierarchical intelligence functions need to be reexamined and replaced with cooperative, fluid structures that can collect information and move intelligence to end users more quickly. Intelligence in today’s policing environment must adapt to the new realities presented by terrorism and conventional crimes. 

These new realities require increased collaboration in information gathering and intelligence sharing. Critical community infrastructures such as those related to food, agriculture, public health, telecommunications, energy, transportation, and banking are now seen as potential terrorist targets. As a result, parts of the community that previously did not receive much notice from state and local law enforcement agencies now require keen attention. Personnel who work in these and other key industries are now partners in terrorism prevention and crime control. Similarly, community- and problem-oriented policing must be integrated into intelligence operations to address conventional crime issues. Engaging and collaborating with the community at all levels are essential. 

Intelligence-led policing is a collaborative enterprise based on improved intelligence operations and community-oriented policing and problem solving, which the field has considered beneficial for many years. To implement intelligence-led policing, police organizations need to reevaluate their current policies and protocols. Intelligence must be incorporated into the planning process to reflect community problems and issues. Information sharing must become a policy, not an informal practice. Most important, intelligence must be contingent on quality analysis of data. The development of analytical techniques, training, and technical assistance needs to be supported. 

Because of size and limited budgets, not all agencies can employ intelligence analysts or intelligence officers. Nonetheless, all law enforcement agencies have a role in the transformation of national intelligence operations. This document identifies four levels of intelligence capabilities for state and local agencies. At each level, steps can be taken to help agencies incorporate intelligence-led policing strategies. These steps include adopting mission statements, writing intelligence policies and procedures, participating in information sharing, establishing appropriate security, and adopting legal safeguards to protect the public’s privacy and civil liberties. 

More than 20 years ago, some in law enforcement their call. Their plea, espoused years ago, is even more argued for similar changes and an expanded urgent today. “Law enforcement administrators,” they application of intelligence operations. A national said, “can no longer afford to respond to contemporary catastrophe was required to confirm the wisdom of and future problems with the ‘solutions’ of yesterday.”

What Is Intelligence? 

Because of misuse, the word “intelligence” means different things to different people. The most common mistake is to consider “intelligence” as synonymous with “information.” Information is not intelligence. Misuse also has led to the phrase “collecting intelligence” instead of “collecting information.” Although intelligence may be collected by and shared with intelligence agencies and bureaus, field operations generally collect information (or data). Despite the many definitions of “intelligence” that have been promulgated over the years, the simplest and clearest of these is “information plus analysis equals intelligence.” The formula above clarifies the distinction between collected information and produced intelligence. It notes that without analysis, there is no intelligence. Intelligence is not what is collected; it is what is produced after collected data is evaluated and analyzed. 

If intelligence is analyzed information, what is analysis? Some agencies contend that computer software can perform analysis for them; thus, they invest in technology rather than in trained analysts. However, analysis requires thoughtful contemplation that results in conclusions and recommendations. Thus, computers may assist with analysis by compiling large amounts of data into an easily accessible format, but this is only collated data; it is not analyzed data or information, and it falls far short of intelligence. For information to be useful, it must be analyzed by a trained intelligence professional. In other words, intelligence tells officials everything they need to know before they knowledgeably choose a course of action. For example, intelligence provides law enforcement executives with facts and alternatives that can inform critical decisions. 

Tactical Intelligence Versus Strategic Intelligence 

The distinction between tactical and strategic intelligence is often misconstrued. Tactical intelligence contributes directly to the success of specific investigations. Strategic intelligence deals with “big-picture” issues, such as planning and manpower allocation. Tactical intelligence directs immediate action, whereas strategic intelligence evolves over time and explores long-term, large-scope solutions. 

Some professionals refer to “evidential intelligence,” in which certain pieces of evidence indicate where other evidence may be found. Evidential intelligence can help prove a criminal violation or provide leads for investigators to follow.

The term “operational intelligence” is sometimes used to refer to intelligence that supports long-term investigations into multiple, similar targets. Operational intelligence is concerned primarily with identifying, targeting, detecting, and intervening in criminal activity.

 Why Intelligence Is Critical 

Intelligence is critical for decision making, planning, strategic targeting, and crime prevention. Law enforcement agencies depend on intelligence operations on all levels; they cannot function effectively without collecting, processing, and using intelligence. 


Gathering information and deciding what to do with it are common occurrences in law enforcement operations. Law enforcement officers and managers are beset by large quantities of information, yet decisions are often based on information that may be incomplete, inaccurate, or misdirected. The move from information gathering to informed decisionmaking depends on the intelligence/analytic process, and results in a best estimate of what has happened or will happen. 

Questions have been asked about the extent to which substantive analysis was performed prior to September 11 to test hypotheses of attacks by foreign terrorist groups against the United States, and whether domestic agencies were told to assess these threats or to develop a plan of action and present it to decisionmakers. It appears that decision makers relied on raw intelligence reports that may have raised concerns but did not guide informed decisions.

Experience shows that intelligence and analysis must be strengthened to meet the threat of terrorism against the United States. Law enforcement personnel have a key role to play in making this happen. 


Intelligence is critical to effective planning and subsequent action. In many law enforcement agencies, planning is performed without an understanding of the crime problems facing the jurisdiction and without sufficient operational input. In these instances, strategic planning bears no resemblance to strategic analysis or strategic intelligence. Instead, it relates only to funding issues and operational constraints. Essentially a budget exercise, this type of planning suffers from a disconnect between the major issues facing a community and the manner in which funds are spent to address those needs.

Law enforcement executives are being encouraged to view policing as a business. The United Kingdom’s National Intelligence Model notes that:

“The law enforcement business is about the successful management and reduction of crime and other law enforcement problems. . . . The vital central ingredient in successful planning is identification and understanding

  • an accurate picture of the business,
  • what is actually happening on the ground,
  • the nature and extent of the problem,
  • the trends, and
  • where the main threats lie.”  

By adhering to these principles, commanders can create responsive enforcement plans that meet the needs of the community. This cannot be done through sheer managerial vision. It must be embedded in critical thinking based on intelligence and analysis. 

Strategic Targeting 

Strategic targeting and prioritization are other critical roles of intelligence. Law enforcement agencies with tight budgets and personnel reductions or shortages must use their available resources carefully, targeting individuals, locations, and operations that promise the greatest results and the best chances for success. Case or lead overloads can reduce investigators’ efficiency unless they know how to identify the most fruitful leads. Intelligence enables officers to work more efficiently. 

For example, to help fight terrorism and domestic extremism, the California Department of Justice examines group characteristics, criminal predicates, target analyses, and intervention consequences to determine which groups pose the greatest threat to the state. By reviewing and comparing this information, the agency can prioritize which groups require the earliest intervention. In addition, response strategies can be selected based on an understanding of the group’s activities and an awareness of what resources are available. 

Crime Prevention 

The final area in which intelligence is critical is crime prevention. Using intelligence from previous crimes in local and other jurisdictions, indicators can be created and shared among law enforcement agencies. Comparing the indicators from local neighborhoods, analysts can anticipate crime trends and agencies can take preventive measures to intervene or mitigate the impact of those crimes.

Understanding the Intelligence Process

NCISP categorizes the intelligence process according to six steps: planning and direction, collection, processing/collation, analysis, dissemination, and reevaluation.

Planning and Direction

Planning how data will be collected is key to the intelligence process. Effective planning assesses existing data and ensures that additional data collected will fill any gaps in the information already on file. As one federal manager put it, “Don’t tell me what I know; tell me what I don’t know.” 

To be effective, intelligence collection must be planned and focused; its methods must be coordinated, and its guidelines must prohibit illegal methods of obtaining information. Inaccurate collection efforts can result in a flawed result, regardless of the analytical skills employed. 

Planning and collection are a joint effort that requires a close working relationship between analysts, who understand how to manage, compile, and analyze information, and intelligence officers, who know the best ways to obtain information.

 Planning requires an agency to identify the outcomes it wants to achieve from its collection efforts. This identification directs the scope of the officers’ and agents’ investigations—for example, a straightforward inquiry to identify crime groups operating in a jurisdiction or a more complex inquiry to determine the likelihood that criminal extremists will attack a visiting dignitary. 


Intelligence analysis requires collecting and processing large amounts of information. Data collection is the most labor-intensive aspect of the intelligence process. Traditionally, it has been the most emphasized segment of the process, with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors dedicating significant resources to gathering data. New technology and new or updated laws have supported this emphasis.

Historically, the following have been the most common forms of data collection used in intelligence units: 

  • Physical surveillance (either in person or by videotape).
  • Electronic surveillance (trap and trace or wiretap)
  • Confidential informants.
  • Undercover operators.
  • Newspaper reports (now also Internet sources).
  • Public records (e.g., deeds, property tax records)

Today many other overt and covert sources are available.


Processing/collation involves sifting through available data to eliminate useless, irrelevant, or incorrect information and to put the data into a logical order. This organization makes it easier to identify relationships among entities and uncover relevant information. Today, collation is performed using sophisticated databases with text-mining capabilities.

Database design is critical for retrieving and comparing data. Many computer software companies offer database products, but most require fine-tuning to tailor them to law enforcement agencies’ needs. Smaller agencies often use “off-the-shelf” software to reduce costs. Fortunately, technology now allows different databases to interact through text-mining features. 

Processing and collation also involve evaluating the data being entered. Information placed into an intelligence file is evaluated for the validity of the information and the reliability of its source. Information placed into an intelligence system must meet a standard of relevance—i.e., it must be relevant to criminal activity associated with the informant.


Analysis converts information into intelligence. As one authority on the subject notes, “Without the explicit performance of this function [analysis], the intelligence unit is nothing but a file unit.”

Analysis is quite simply a process of deriving meaning from data. The analytic process tells what information is present or missing from the facts or evidence. In law enforcement intelligence operations, data are analyzed to provide further leads in investigations, to present hypotheses about who committed a crime or how it was committed, to predict future crime patterns, and to assess threats facing a jurisdiction. Thus, analysis includes synthesizing data, developing inferences or conclusions, and making recommendations for action based on the data and inferences. These inferences constitute the finished intelligence product. 

The process, along with investigative experience, also points out what has been done and what operational steps need to be taken. Thus, potential areas for further investigation may be recommended. It is important to remember that the analyst recommends but does not direct or decide on policy alternatives to minimize crime problems.

In 2004, a broad range of analytic techniques and methods were available to support law enforcement: 

  • Crime analysis: Crime pattern analysis, geographic analysis, time-series analysis, frequency-distribution analysis, behavioral analysis, and statistical analysis. 
  • Investigative (evidential) analysis: Network analysis; telephone record analysis; event, commodity, and activity-flow analysis; timeline analysis; visual investigative analysis; bank record analysis; net worth analysis; business record analysis; content analysis; postseizure analysis; case analysis; and conversation analysis. 
  • Strategic analysis: Threat assessments, premonitories, vulnerability assessments, risk assessments, estimates, general assessments, warnings, problem profiles, target profiles, and strategic targeting.


Dissemination requires getting intelligence to those who have the need and the right to use it in whatever form is deemed most appropriate. Intelligence reports kept within the intelligence unit fail to fulfill their Those who need the information are most often outside the intelligence unit; therefore, the to withhold by exception.  


Reevaluation is the task of examining intelligence products to determine their effectiveness. Part of this that is, the managers, investigators, and officers to whom the intelligence is directed. One way to reevaluate intelligence is to include a feedback form with each product that is disseminated. To make sure the comments are valuable, the feedback form should ask specific questions relating to the usefulness of the intelligence.


Source:  BJA. Intelligence-Led Policing: The New Intelligence Architecture.


Modification History

File Created:  08/10/2019

Last Modified:  12/03/2023

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