Meeting 21st Century Challenges Through Intelligence-Led Policing

The History of Intelligence-Led Policing 

For nearly two decades, a law enforcement philosophy known as intelligence-led policing has dominated the public safety landscape. Intelligence-led policing promotes identifying crime trends and proactively targeting frequent offenders rather than just responding to crimes as they occur.


Even though the term “intelligence-led policing” is relatively new, many progressive police departments have been practicing elements of the theory for decades, said former Logan, Utah police chief Rich Hendricks.

“Intelligence-led policing is the process of using statistical information to make strategic decisions,” Hendricks said. “You are problem solving, not just out there waiting for the phone to ring.”

Author and professor Jerry Ratcliffe, a leading authority on intelligence-led policing, uses a simple diagram to show how successful intelligence-led policing works. Crime analysts identify public safety problems and trends and then pass their knowledge to decision makers like sheriffs and police chiefs. Armed with this knowledge, these decision makers can focus resources on fighting their community’s most critical issues.

Jerry Ratcliffe’s intelligence-led policing diagram


Intelligence-Led Policing Software in Action

Collecting and analyzing the data needed to conduct intelligence-led policing can be an expensive undertaking, especially as many public safety agencies are faced with shrinking budgets. Software can be a critical way to gather and share intelligence without adding manpower.

Hendricks said the Logan Police Department relied on data-analysis software to help them put their intelligence-led policing strategy into action.

Several years ago, the agency’s software system showed that incidents of graffiti had risen more than 200 percent over a three-month period in the typically quiet college town, frequently cited as one of the safest in the nation.

Although the number of incidents were still relatively small, Hendricks said, the problem was obviously the start of a worrisome trend.

“We knew that if we ignored it, by the end of the year instead of seeing 18 reports, we’d be seeing 45 or 50 reports,” he said.

Once the agency had identified the issue, it focused resources on finding the perpetrators and creating a zero-tolerance atmosphere for graffiti. A task force was developed to find out who was behind the crimes, officers were asked specifically to be on the lookout for any suspicious activities that could be related to graffiti, and a public awareness campaign made it clear that graffiti would not be tolerated.

Over the next few months, the Logan Police Department made 12 arrests and served several search warrants related to the graffiti incidents. Once the suspects were found, Hendricks said, the agency had zero reports of graffiti for the rest of the year.  Because the agency was utilizing a software system that helped them identify the spike in graffiti incidents, he said, the agency was able to tackle the problem immediately before it became even more severe.

What Does the Future Hold?

Today’s agencies can choose from a variety of software solutions to help support intelligence-led policing initiatives.

Computerized pin mapping systems enable agencies to identify crime trends by displaying the locations of incidents on an electronic map. CompStat programs help agencies see how specific types of crime are increasing or decreasing, and data sharing programs enable them to exchange critical information on suspects and incidents with other jurisdictions. Spillman’s Research and Design manager, Larry Morris, believes that the next 10 years holds even more exciting intelligence-led policing trends for the public safety world.

A few factors will help drive the development of new technology, Morris said. First, the computing environment will become faster, allowing programs to process and analyze increasing amounts of data in less time. Cloud computing will continue to grow, meaning that public safety personnel will be increasingly able to access data and programs anywhere that they have a computerized device and an Internet connection.

Morris expects that methods of collecting and analyzing data will also grow. For example, some agencies are currently using license plate scanners on law enforcement vehicles and buildings to look for “hot vehicles” as well as to compile data that can be used to track the whereabouts of suspicious vehicles.  Detectives are able to look up the license plate of a suspected burglar and see if his plate numbers had been scanned by automatic scanners on police cars or cameras near the scene of any recent break-ins.

Data will become increasingly transferable between local, state, and federal jurisdictions, Morris said, and improved data analytics and data mining will enable software systems to identify trends and present them in an easy-to-understand format. What does all this mean for officers in the field? Morris believes that someday, they may be operating in a kind of “augmented reality” in which warnings about suspects, sex offenders, and potentially dangerous locations will simply pop up on a computer screen or a heads up display as an officer passes them on the road.

No matter what type of technology the future brings, you can count on intelligence-led policing remaining a critical part of law enforcement. For ideas on how to incorporate intelligence-led policing tactics in your agency, visit the USDOJ’s COPS Homeland Security through Community Policing website or explore the National Criminal Justice Reference Service’s guide to intelligence-led policing.