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Back to Archives | Back to February 2012 Contents 

Local Policing: Expanding Reach with Limited Resources through Fusion Centers

By Ray Guidetti, Captain, New Jersey State Police

ir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in London, United Kingdom, once compared being a police officer in the 21st century to being a man standing on the bank of a very fast flowing river. In that river, the man could see countless people drowning as they swept past him. As the moments ticked on, thousands of troubled people shouted to the man on the bank to rescue them. Commissioner Stevens then posed the question, “What does the police officer do?” He further questioned, “Does he jump in and help as many as he can, or does he take a walk upstream and find out who is throwing them all in the river?” Stevens surmised that quite often, police wade in to the rescue and begin the cycle of uncontrolled demand and uncoordinated response. From this story, Commissioner Stevens concluded that “the police become like lifeguards, frantically swimming against the tide from one incident to another, employing different tactics in a disjointed and unfocused manner with little or nothing to show for it at the end of the day.”1

This story highlights a problem that police departments across the United States face regularly. How can police agencies increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their members? This issue has exponentially grown within the austere fiscal environment present today, where budgets are dwindling and resources are scarce.

Fusion Centers

One solution for expanding the reach of local police agencies with limited resources is the fusion center. Today, there are 72 fusion centers in operation across the United States. While fusion centers may differ in size, capacity, and experience from one another, they all share a common attribute: Being able to process information in a manner that adds analytical value and focuses dissemination toward those who need to know specific pieces of information. At a fundamental level, fusion centers are in the business of producing situational awareness reports, analyses, and forecasting type products to assist law enforcement, homeland security, public safety, and private sector entities.

Expanding the Reach

The New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center (NJ ROIC) is an all-crimes, all-threats, all-hazards fusion center made up of approximately 100 personnel from local, state, and federal agencies who come together to assess threat and risk related to crime, terrorism, and homeland security. Colocated with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, the center comprises four elements: a 24/7 watch operations element, an analysis element, a strategic outreach element, and a dedicated information technology element. The individual units work together to answer three very important questions for its customers: (1) what is happening in the environment as it relates to crime, terrorism, and other hazards; (2) what does this information mean; and (3) who needs to know about it.

In New Jersey, the fusion center expands the reach of its local law enforcement agencies in three key areas. The first is its capacity to provide intelligence and analytical resources to local crime and homeland security problems. Across the United States, law enforcement analytical personnel are scarce, making it difficult to carry out an intelligence-led policing model. Agencies that outsource their analytical needs to fusion centers find great value in how they allocate their finite resources.

For example, in October 2010, Chief Thomas Comey of the Jersey City, New Jersey, Police Department contacted the NJ ROIC to request intelligence assistance. He was facing significant budgetary cutbacks and personnel layoffs; however, the residents of his city would be expecting the same level of service regardless of the austere financial climate. By assessing problem people (serial and recidivist offenders); problem places (hot spot areas); and problem behavior (violent and serial crime), the fusion center was able to provide the chief with focused areas within the city to allocate his limited resources. The intelligence assistance provided by the fusion center allowed Chief Comey to allocate his resources more effectively and efficiently through an intelligence-led policing model.

Additionally, Acting Chief Benjamin Ruiz of the Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Police Department has found value in the NJ ROIC because of its demonstrated ability to reinvigorate dormant cases. The link analysis products that fusion center analysts provide to Perth Amboy in preparation for its biweekly Violent Enterprise Strategic Targeting (VEST) meetings have served to refocus efforts against targets that may have fallen off the radar.2 In one particular case, a subject known on a limited basis from an earlier investigation was found to be a much larger player in a drug distribution network with associations to criminal enterprises in New York City. A concerted effort among Perth Amboy, the New York City Police Department, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, and the Drug Enforcement Administration led to the arrest of the major drug dealer. Chief Ruiz credits the foundation of these types of efforts on his relationship with the NJ ROIC. His city cannot afford the analytical and technological resources that the fusion center can provide to him during these distressed economic times.

The second key function of the New Jersey fusion center is to act as a gateway to the federal government for its local agencies. Throughout the year, the NJ ROIC, through its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) members, offers local police departments access to the intelligence community. This is particularly important when local police departments come across suspicious activity that they report to the fusion center that inevitably makes it to the FBI for follow-up investigation when a nexus to terrorism is identified; reaches the DHS for an assessment against national patterns and trends; and is exposed nationally through the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) shared space, enabling the federated fusion community to make connections. Conversely, the NJ ROIC enables its federal partners to communicate intelligence derived from the Intelligence Community to local police agencies through the fusion center.

A less glamorous, but equally important, role of the NJ ROIC is acting as a gateway for local police and public safety agencies to state government and regional resources, to which these smaller agencies might not have had access. One example is a local police department that was experiencing a community problem: A corner gas station was selling bad gas to its customers, causing customer cars to break down in nearby locations. While the activity by the gas station was clearly problematic, the local police agency did not know how to address this type of unconventional issue. When the police department contacted the NJ ROIC, the state agency was immediately able to connect the local agency with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. The division responded to the area, tested the fuel, and promptly shut down the station. Solving the problem saved the local police department in personnel resources that were originally assigned to a fixed post at the gas station and negated the calls for service that the condition was generating.

The third key service that NJ ROIC provides to its local police department customers is the opportunity to participate in the wisdom of the crowds—that is, the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. The New Jersey fusion center offers its local police constituencies the opportunity to participate in initiatives and projects that draw on the collective wisdom of the many. Chief Anthony Ambrose of the Essex County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office saw fit to assign one of his senior detectives to the NJ ROIC Analysis Element. With the NJ ROIC focusing on shooting incidents across the entire state, it is difficult for fusion center personnel to have local knowledge of incidents and serial offenders. The Essex County detective’s knowledge on the local atmospherics of the events increases the relevance of the intelligence products distributed by the fusion center. This combined wisdom not only offers the fusion center a greater awareness of the local environment, but it also provides local police agencies with the opportunity to blend specific institutional knowledge about focused areas into value-added products that inform operational decision makers.

This wisdom of the crowds extends outside the bricks and mortar of the fusion center into areas beyond the traditional. Because of the scourge of gun violence in Essex County, the fusion center and members of the University Hospital (Newark, New Jersey) Trauma Center team have come together to address gun violence as a public health issue. Spearheading this effort is a member of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, who is assigned to the fusion center to ensure a seamless transmission of threat intelligence and suspicious activity between the fusion center and public health professionals. Ultimately, the relationship provides value to the local law enforcement community in the form of intelligence products and situational awareness messages. It also builds relationships and data sets that may someday lower the societal cost of gun violence.

Trusted Relationships

In early November 2011, an off-duty Newark, New Jersey, police officer was shot and killed during a robbery in Paterson, New Jersey. The tragic event drew hundreds of police officers from around the state to assist with the murder investigation and manhunt of those responsible for the brutal slaying. Ultimately, the investigation led to two individuals being arrested as they hid in a hotel near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Behind the scenes, the NJ ROIC provided information, intelligence, and the coordination of resources to the commanders and investigators involved with the incident. Deputy Chief William Fraher of the Paterson Police Department credited the fusion center’s high level of support not because of the incident at hand, but because of the trusted information sharing relationship built over several years with the fusion center engaging violent crime and recidivist offenders. Fraher’s view of the fusion center, as his own analytical and information sharing enterprise, underpins his efforts at expanding the reach of his police agency when resources are limited and personnel layoffs are a real problem.

Chiefs of police around the nation are encouraged to find imaginative ways for plugging in to their respective state or Urban Area Security Initiative fusion centers. It is one way, albeit intelligence led, toward expanding the reach of resource-constrained organizations. ■

Raymond Guidetti is a member at the New Jersey State Police and is assigned to the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center, where he serves as a captain over the Office of Baseline Capabilities. He recently returned from a 12-month fellowship within the Department of Homeland Security’s Intelligence and Analysis component. In that capacity, he worked within the State and Local Program Office on an interagency team crafting policy and guidance aimed at strengthening the national network of fusion centers. He earned a master of arts degree in security studies (homeland defense and security) from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2006.

1John Stevens, “Intelligence-Led Policing” (lecture, Modern Criminal Investigation, Organized Crime, and Human Rights 2nd World Conference, Durban, South Africa, December 2001).
2VEST meetings in New Jersey are primarily sponsored by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program and aim to bring together law enforcement officials from local, state, and federal entities who have an interest in the violent crime activity occurring in a specific urban center region. Since their inception in New Jersey, VEST meetings across the state have relied on the intelligence and analysis produced by the NJ ROIC.

Please cite as:

By Ray Guidetti, "Local Policing: Expanding Reach with Limited Resources through Fusion Centers," The Police Chief 79 (February 2012): 22–25.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 2, February 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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