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A Foundation For Information Sharing

Kurt F. Schmid, National Director, High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C.


Many in the law enforcement profession said it couldn't be done: build an integrated federal, state, and local law enforcement national information sharing system complete with tactical and strategic intelligence analysis capability. The Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program has provided more than 1,300 participating local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies with the framework and funding for that very infrastructure and architecture. The HIDTA Intelligence System also relies upon the Department of Justice's Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) program's RISS.net, the secure but unclassified national information technology network upon which the HIDTA program operates.

Since its inception in 1988, the HIDTA program has grown from five original HIDTAs (Houston, Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, South Florida, and the Southwest Border) funded at $25 million to 28 HIDTAs, funded at $226 million today (see www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov). The overall objective of the HIDTA program is to reduce the availability of illicit drugs; it does this by providing structure and funding to participating law enforcement agencies to better share resources and information as well as implement cooperative initiatives in HIDTA designated areas.

HIDTA Intelligence System

The HIDTA Intelligence System boasts over 1,500 law enforcement personnel, mostly criminal intelligence analysts, participating full-time in more than 60 intelligence initiatives in the 28 HIDTA-designated areas throughout the United States. While HIDTA is a counterdrug program, the HIDTA intelligence centers operate in a general criminal intelligence environment, thus leveraging all criminal intelligence information for the program's primary mission. Analysts and law enforcement officers in the HIDTA Intelligence System have direct access to thousands of criminal and public source databases and state-of-the-art analytical tools.

The HIDTA Intelligence System, an indispensable element in the creation and growth of numerous local, state, and federal intelligence programs, largely depends upon HIDTA program mandates. Each HIDTA must establish an intelligence center comanaged by a federal and a state or local law enforcement agency. The core mission of each individual HIDTA Intelligence Center is to provide tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence support to its HIDTA executive board, a group of participating law enforcement agency principals responsible for the daily management of their respective HIDTAs, HIDTA-funded task forces, and other regional HIDTAs. Developing regional threat assessments and providing event and target deconfliction are also among the centers' core missions. These core functions are critical to building trust and breaking down parochialism between and among the local, state, and federal participating law enforcement agencies.

Integrating 28 Centers

The plan to connect all HIDTA Intelligence Centers via RISS.net was initiated by the HIDTA Program Office at ONDCP in 1999. Agreements with the RISS Program Policy Boards were forged and funding was provided to HIDTAs to establish connections using RISS.net. The arduous task of connecting all 28 HIDTA Intelligence Centers was completed in mid-2003.

Much remains to be accomplished to achieve institutionalized information sharing in the law enforcement community. The HIDTA Program Office has commissioned interagency and interdisciplinary working committees to develop a national information sharing plan, focusing on issues relating to legal, agency policy, privacy, technical, and logistical information sharing matters. HIDTA program and committee personnel are coordinating with and implementing recommendations made by other information sharing initiatives such as Global, Matrix, and federally sponsored intelligence programs. HIDTA strongly encourages all U.S. domestic law enforcement intelligence programs, whether they are federal, state, or local, to participate with the HIDTA Intelligence Centers nationwide.

The Road Ahead

More than 90 percent of the United States law enforcement is at the state and local level. Consequently, the vast majority of crucial domestic intelligence lies with the state and local partners. Paradoxically, the analytical assets to harvest, analyze, and exploit that rich source of information for local, regional, and national law enforcement agency use are sorely lacking. Austere budgets are forcing law enforcement agencies to reduce law enforcement personnel. One of the most effective ways to bring the scale back to balance is for law enforcement agencies to be intelligence-driven, managing information to direct diminishing human resources at the most serious problems to achieve the greatest impact.

The HIDTA Program's Intelligence System is filling that gap. Even the smallest law enforcement agencies can now participate, to varying degrees, in the HIDTA intelligence process. William C. Dwyer, chief of police in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and former president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police said, "The HIDTA program with their Investigative Support and Deconfliction Centers have proven to be a significant asset to state and local law enforcement and whose potential has not yet been fully realized." Michael J. Bouchard, sheriff of Oakland County, Michigan, said, "The HIDTA Intelligence System Investigative Support Centers are a model for the whole of law enforcement on the sharing and coordination of pertinent law enforcement information."

The HIDTA program is postured to establish its intelligence system as its legacy: a busy, robust, fully integrated national criminal intelligence system, a one-stop shop for federal, state, and local law enforcement, staffed with analysts and law enforcement officers who value interdependence, integrating intelligence products with their operations. Combined with other domestic intelligence initiatives, the HIDTA Intelligence System truly is a foundation for information sharing. ♦

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From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 11, November 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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