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Back to Archives | Back to February 2008 Contents 

Fusion Centers: New York State Intelligence Strategy Unifies Law Enforcement

By Colonel Bart R. Johnson (retired), and Shelagh Dorn, Program Research Specialist, New York State Police, Albany, New York


s a result of the tragic terrorist attacks in New York City, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies throughout the country realized there was an immediate need to refocus many of their investigative and intelligence efforts on terrorism. The New York State law enforcement community, consisting of more than 540 agencies and staffed by over 75,000 dedicated law enforcement professionals, was well positioned to gather information, act on the intelligence provided to it, and respond to acts of terrorism.

Traditionally, political and jurisdictional divisions among local, state, and federal agencies affected law enforcement investigations. Agencies ran independent but concurrent investigations without any mechanism or procedures in place to share the information they developed. This unfortunately resulted in the compartmentalization of potentially useful information. In addition, technology gaps between agencies contributed to the inability to share information, preventing the production of viable, actionable intelligence. Following the terrorist events of 9/11, it became evident that such lack of communication—along with a failure to build a centralized and unified intelligence repository to gather, maintain, and analyze intelligence information limited the ability of U.S. law enforcement communities to share intelligence.

Across the United States, detecting and preventing terrorism has become a law enforcement priority. Pursuing terrorists and gathering intelligence data to thwart further terrorist attacks requires that agencies allocate scarce resources. By working alone and relying on individual budgets, agencies limit their ability to detect and prevent terrorism successfully. In addition, few municipal law enforcement agencies can afford to dedicate units to study and track terrorist and other organized criminal activities. Along with financial concerns, “routine” law enforcement caseloads normally take precedence for many municipal agencies. Yet the importance of intelligence and the exchange of information among agencies cannot be dismissed. Proactive intelligence efforts are the key to inhibiting criminal networks—whether those networks are related to terrorism, drugs, or other organized criminal enterprises. For this reason, any information-sharing solution must employ an all-crimes approach.

The Solution

The IACP has recognized these challenges facing law enforcement and has convened several subcommittees to study and propose solutions to the problems involved with implementing the exchange of criminal intelligence. This exchange relies on regional networking and information sharing, ideally through intelligence fusion centers. Fusion centers combine multiple agencies in one location, pooling resources and personnel in order to share information and develop intelligence about criminal activities. Information collected by agencies is collated and analyzed, producing actionable intelligence for dissemination to other law enforcement agencies. An integral part of the fusion center concept is developing and disseminating intelligence, rather than simply collecting and storing information or serving as a case support center. Collaboration encourages a coordinated and organized response to terrorist and other criminal activity throughout the target jurisdiction, diminishing gaps in interagency communication and intelligence.

Specific guidance has been developed and published to assist agencies with information sharing and with establishing fusion centers. Published documents include the following:

  • The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (NCISP) is a blueprint for law enforcement administrators building their intelligence capabilities.1 Law enforcement officials from local, state, tribal, and federal agencies constructed recommendations.

  • The National Strategy for Information Sharing, published in October 2007, focuses on reviewing and improving the sharing of homeland security and law enforcement information related to terrorism with federal, state, local, and tribal entities; the private sector; and foreign partners as well as protecting information privacy and rights.2 This report outlines the current information sharing environment and the cross-agency challenges of collecting, processing, and analyzing all-crimes information to develop and share intelligence while simultaneously safeguarding civil rights.

  • Fusion Center Guidelines: Developing and Sharing Information and Intelligence in a New Era contains guidelines to assist in the successful development of fusion centers.3

Fusion centers embody collaboration. They benefit the law enforcement community by providing agencies with resources, including organized intelligence support. Fusion centers are essential for engaging in crime and intelligence analyses and can assist law enforcement with intelligence-led policing. Focusing attention on systematically and routinely gathering and sharing information statewide about criminal activities reduces crime and produces safer communities. In addition, fusion centers assist jurisdictions by structuring the “big picture,” providing real benefits to global information sharing in an environment where it can be difficult even to share information locally. In addition to other critical functions, fusion centers provide a conduit for integrating, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence. State fusion centers across the United States maximize local knowledge of potential terrorist suspects, vulnerabilities, and trends, and communicate that information to the appropriate federal partners. The intelligence component of fusion centers is the foundation for successful data integration and exchange.

Fusion centers produce results. One long-term example of a successful intelligence repository and analysis center is the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Center, which serves as an information hub for law enforcement agencies in the New York City/New Jersey area. Tips about drug and criminal activity in the New York City region are tracked and analyzed by investigators and analysts. The pooling of intelligence data in a central location has proven to be a key factor in identifying those individuals and organizations that may be furthering, facilitating, or carrying out criminal and terrorist activity in New York City. In particular, members of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force are assigned on a full-time basis to coordinate state and federal terrorism prevention efforts. The success of this effort is evident through the coordination and outreach efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in New York City.

New York’s Intelligence Fusion Center Operations

Building the New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC) was the law enforcement community’s response to the absence of a shared information and intelligence strategy throughout New York State (NYS) following the 9/11 attacks. The NYSIC, working in close cooperation with the NYS Office of Homeland Security and the Division of Criminal Justice Services, is a network of intelligence specialists that supplies terrorism and intelligence services to the entire NYS law enforcement community. It provides law enforcement agents 24-hour access to state, federal, and private information databases. Officers who suspect terrorist links can both confirm their suspicions and contribute information regarding suspicious activities. Additionally, the NYSIC compiles and disseminates information and advance warnings to law enforcement agencies statewide regarding possible terrorist and criminal incidents.

The mission of the NYSIC is to improve the efficient, timely, and accurate exchange of information among all NYS law enforcement agencies. Working in close partnership with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Intelligence Division when investigations cross into the boroughs of New York City, the NYSIC focuses on all aspects of criminal activity in the counties outside New York City. The NYSIC augments law enforcement operations by acting as a centralized, comprehensive intelligence fusion center, specifically producing and coordinating the statewide exchange of criminal intelligence. Intelligence analysts at the NYSIC have daily interaction with law enforcement agencies across the United States. Together, the NYPD Intelligence Division and the NYSIC provide a seamless sharing of criminal intelligence for all law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Both sworn and civilian personnel with knowledge and expertise in a variety of designated areas of responsibility known as “Investigative Focus Areas” (IFAs) are available to assist law enforcement agencies around the clock. These experienced and knowledgeable people have access to a centrally located pool of investigative resources and provide both analytical services as well as general case support. In turn, this allows law enforcement officers throughout the state to save costly hours of work and investigative steps in their criminal cases.

A key to the success of an intelligence fusion center is the support of stakeholders in regional law enforcement agencies. The NYSIC is located in the capital district of New York and is staffed by personnel from the New York State Police (NYSP) as well as 15 other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; each agency provides access to proprietary law enforcement data systems and information. A multiagency endeavor, the NYSIC has received the full support of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, the New York State Sheriff’s Association, and many federal and state agencies, including the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the NYS Department of Corrections, and the NYS Division of Parole. The following agencies are represented:

  • Colonie Police Department

  • DEA

  • FBI

  • New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority

  • NYPD

  • New York National Guard Counterdrug Task Force

  • NYS Department of Corrections

  • NYS Department of Motor Vehicles

  • NYS Division of Parole

  • NYS Office of Homeland Security

  • NYSP

  • Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office

  • U.S. Attorney’s Office

  • U.S. Department of Defense—Defense Criminal Investigative Service

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  • U.S. Social Security Administration

Personnel working at the NYSIC are assigned generally to the Criminal Intelligence Section and are further identified by the following specific units:

  • Border Intelligence Unit
  • Communication Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA Unit)
  • Counter Terrorism Center, including Counter Terrorism Intelligence Units

  • Criminal Gun Clearinghouse

  • Criminal Intelligence Unit

  • Electronic Surveillance Unit

  • Financial Crimes Unit

  • Gang Intelligence Unit

  • Narcotics Intelligence Unit

  • NYPD Intelligence Division liaisons

  • Operation IMPACT Unit (Integrated Municipal Police Anti-Crime Teams)

Together, these agencies and units operate as part of the statewide intelligence network at the NYSIC.

Creating one center for intelligence and terrorism information—to combine and distribute that information to law enforcement agencies statewide—prevents duplication of effort by multiple agencies. Additionally, one state fusion center serving the entire New York law enforcement community provides a comprehensive picture of criminal and terrorist networks, aids in the fight against future terrorist events, and reduces crime. Agencies throughout New York are not only invited to provide information to the NYSIC and to make requests for case assistance but are also encouraged to contribute personnel to staff the center. This state-of-the-art facility pools the resources of many agencies by gathering law enforcement information and data from upstate New York and combining it in a centralized location. Access to an extensive array of databases through a single contact point is provided by the various components, facilitating criminal information and intelligence exchange. This fusion center unifies the efforts of state, local, and federal analysts to compile, analyze, and disseminate terrorism and intelligence data.

The NYSIC has created uniform intelligence collection standards, setting clear criteria for reporting information to the state fusion center. In close cooperation with its law enforcement partners, the NYSIC has undertaken an initiative recognized as an important component of the intelligence process: developing intelligence collection requirements in the areas of terrorism, gangs, narcotics, guns, and money laundering. Mandating that all law enforcement agencies in New York State report intelligence to a centralized state control point such as the NYSIC ensures that information is received from every possible local, state, and federal source. This is essential, as intelligence depends upon the quality and consistency of information received from law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions. Through these established intelligence requirements, agencies are able to collect pertinent information, allowing it to be analyzed and disseminated to the appropriate stakeholders.

Worthwhile information sharing depends on more than just interagency cooperation; a shared technological standard enhances the ability of different computer systems to “talk” to each other. The IACP actively supports initiatives such as the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), which promotes a unified standard for information technology systems. In that regard, agencies at the NYSIC currently have access to a collective intelligence system. Cases, leads, and tips about criminal or terrorist activity are stored in that information storage system, which complies with U.S. government standards (28 CFR Part 23). Searching of multiple data systems is a capability that the NYSIC has examined at length; a decision was made to purchase a data storage, retrieval, and intelligence system compliant with NIEM standards. This intelligence system is accessible not only to all agencies at the NYSIC but also to law enforcement agencies across the state.

Initiatives Encouraging Statewide Intelligence Sharing

The 9/11 terrorist attacks changed the thought processes of law enforcement agency heads, supervisors, and line officers regarding the topic of intelligence collection and exchange. With the realization that terrorists and those who support them were operational in and moving freely about the United States, agencies recognized that they could no longer afford to operate without standards and procedures regarding the identification of indicators and warnings of terrorist and criminal activity. To address these concerns, and as a direct result of the creation of the NYSIC, many programs, strategies, and initiatives have been developed and implemented, making a significant impact in New York State law enforcement efforts in the intelligence field.

Real-time information
Prototype Counter Terrorism Center: On May 25, 2004, New York State officials, FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, and Vermont governor James Douglas announced a critical new information-sharing pilot program to empower state and local law enforcement in New York and Vermont to participate fully in countering terrorism, assist the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), and protect U.S. residents from another act of terrorism. This program, the first of its kind in the United States, was designed to expand counterterrorism efforts by providing real-time information exchange of terrorism threats, indications, and warnings (see figure 1). Additionally, this center is the focal point for the administration of the NYS Terrorism Tip Line: 1-866-SAFENYS. This information flow has proven instrumental in improving investigative and reporting efforts by police officers statewide.

Working in close cooperation with the Office of Homeland Security, the program makes relevant federal counterterrorism information available in real time to police officers through the NYSIC, using established protocols and clearances. This innovative program ensures strategic and tactical intelligence-led decision making by state and local law enforcement agencies on counterterrorism matters, in addition to enhancing federal trend analyses of terrorism intelligence. This center within the NYSIC has been designated the Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) and has been in operation since 2005.

Statewide Intelligence Summit: The NYSIC, in conjunction with the NYS Office of Homeland Security and the Division of Criminal Justice Services, sponsored the Statewide Intelligence Summit for federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agency executives in Albany, New York, on December 5, 2007 (figure 2). The summit presented an important opportunity for law enforcement executives and commanders to discuss best practices, learn about current initiatives, and share success stories to improve on collaborative information and intelligence-sharing efforts. Presentations included information and intelligence efforts at the local, regional, and national level, as well as briefings about federal projects affecting the New York law enforcement community, such as the status of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).
NY Governos: Elliot Spitzer

Field Intelligence Officers: The Field Intelligence Officer (FIO) program involves the development, designation, and training of selected law enforcement officers within each agency in the state who serve as the primary point of contact for information and intelligence collection, development, and exchange with the NYSIC. New York has found it vital that each agency have at least one individual to serve as the intelligence point of contact. These officers interact regularly with the NYSIC and act as the “push and pull” for information and intelligence within their jurisdictions, ensuring that appropriate facts are collected and passed on to the NYSIC and intelligence products forwarded to their fellow officers. Liaisons receive special intelligence training that equips them with the knowledge necessary for participation as a member of the intelligence community.

Northeast Regional Intelligence Group: Fusion Center Guidelines states that the role of fusion centers is to be the analytical hubs within each state, reaching out across state lines to share information: “[E]ach state fusion center should regularly collaborate and coordinate with other state fusion centers to prevent information silos from developing within states. This effort will enhance information and intelligence sharing.” In addition, designated state fusion centers are charged with coordinating the horizontal and vertical flow of information throughout the state.4

The Northeast Regional Intelligence Group (NRIG) allows state intelligence organizations to network regionally with counterparts in other states. The NRIG is a consortium of counterterrorism, criminal intelligence, and homeland security unit commanders from 12 northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont) and the District of Columbia. The focus of these law enforcement executives is primarily on terrorism prevention, criminal intelligence, and information sharing. The NRIG provides an opportunity for law enforcement counterparts to get to know each other and establish a network of intelligence unit commanders. Based on experiences from their respective jurisdictions, group members collaborate and share ideas, concerns, and “smart practices.” In addition to supporting new national-level strategies, many states have developed their own terrorism prevention and response plans, programs, and strategies. The establishment of the NRIG provides an opportunity for all involved agencies to learn, share, and maintain situational awareness of the rapid changes occurring locally, regionally, and across the United States.

Integrated Municipal Police Anti-Crime Teams (IMPACT): Since the NYSIC began operations in August 2003, its role, responsibilities, and integration into the operations of agencies across New York State have greatly increased. Other new programs and initiatives implemented by state and local government agencies have engaged and will continue to engage the NYSIC in law enforcement operations throughout the state. For example, Operation IMPACT is a broad-ranging initiative that has been introduced by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, affecting law enforcement agencies in 17 jurisdictions as well as New York City. Operation IMPACT task forces combine a variety of law enforcement entities and use numerous initiatives designed specifically to fight crime, including the varied resources of the NYSIC.

Radiological Source Detection: The NYSP, local law enforcement agencies, and the NYS Office of Homeland Security have launched programs to enhance state and local law enforcement agencies’ capabilities to detect and interdict radiological material. The U.S. Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) has provided training that includes officers’ use of the Personal Radiation Detector (PRD), which detects abnormal levels of radiation. Officers discovering suspicious radiation can use a Radioactive Isotope Identifying Detector (RIID) to obtain detailed information on the material. Information is forwarded to the NYSIC for analysis and intelligence generation. These radiological source detection devices are integral to thwarting potential terrorist attacks.

Fusion Center Success

Across the United States, fusion centers rely on various funding sources and are tasked with a variety of missions and responsibilities by their governing agencies. Fusion centers may be responsible for criminal intelligence, terrorism, all-crimes, and/or all-hazards information, and any combination thereof, making it difficult to measure the success of fusion centers both individually and as a group. The NYSIC relies on performance measures that are both quantitative and qualitative to determine the results of its intelligence work. This includes information concerning the number of cases handled, the recounting of success stories, results of fusion center customer surveys, and measures of the quantity and quality of the intelligence produced.

More difficult to capture is the success of predictive analyses—those capable of thwarting terrorist threats and disrupting criminal enterprises. Yet the successful outcome of fusion center initiatives, the increased number of cross-jurisdictional criminal investigations and prosecutions, and an improvement in quality of life for New York State residents are all clear indicators of how New York communities profit from the specialized support and resources provided by a successful fusion center such as the NYSIC.

Location of Missing Girl: The NYSIC assisted NYSP-Ithaca with locating a missing student. NYSP-Ithaca had been contacted due to concerns about her welfare. With previous investigative leads having been exhausted without success, NYSIC assistance included a check of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resources. The ICE database checks identified an address that previous investigative work had not revealed. A check on that address resulted in the location of the missing girl. This case is an excellent example of how the extensive resources available through the NYSIC can be of benefit to law enforcement agencies.

Identification of Possible Cigarette Smugglers and Terrorism Funding: NYSP personnel requested information regarding subjects who had provided inconsistent information during a vehicle and traffic stop. Multiple forms of identification found within the vehicle did not match the names provided by the driver and his passengers. Database checks revealed that each individual in the vehicle was a subject of interest in criminal investigations involving cigarette smuggling, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism funding. Based on information provided by the FBI, a canine unit was dispatched to the roadside stop. The canine unit hit on the gasoline tank area of the vehicle, and a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed leafy green vegetation and a laminated card with 22 sets of name, date of birth, and social security number.

This investigation is an excellent example of law enforcement officers following their instincts when confronted with inconsistent information during a routine traffic stop and of the positive results obtained when local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies share information. In this case, the NYSIC’s cooperation and coordination with the FBI led to the identification of possible narcotics traffickers and terrorism supporters and assisted with building the case against these subjects.

Conclusion

State, local, and tribal agencies, working together with federal partners, continue to make improvements in the law enforcement information-sharing environment. In addition, fusion centers are cognizant of privacy concerns and have taken steps to safeguard individuals’ constitutional rights where they intersect with the collection, analysis, and dissemination of criminal intelligence.

In the United States, fusion centers have become an integral component of intelligence-led policing. Many of the barriers to information sharing that still exist in the United States involve technology and its deployment by law enforcement agencies. Yet the importance of intelligence and the timely exchange of information between agencies are what will provide officers on the beat with the information needed to detect and report criminal activities. This detection and reporting provides the basis for intelligence efforts; in turn, law enforcement leadership relies on intelligence analyses performed by skilled analysts in fusion centers nationwide. A coordinated statewide approach to information gathering, analysis, and the dissemination of intelligence benefits both the law enforcement community and the citizens it serves. ■

Notes:

1Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, June 2005, http://it.ojp.gov/documents/National_Criminal_Intelligence_Sharing_Plan.pdf (accessed December 27, 2007).
2White House, National Strategy for Information Sharing: Successes and Challenges in Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing, October 2007, http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/infosharing/NSIS_book.pdf (accessed December 27, 2007).
3Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Fusion Center Guidelines: Developing and Sharing Information and Intelligence in a New Era, August 2006, http://it.ojp.gov/documents/fusion_center_guidelines.pdf (accessed December 27, 2007).
4Ibid., 14.

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From The Police Chief, vol. 75, no. 2, February 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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