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Back to Archives | Back to June 2012 Contents 

Research in Brief: Understanding the Intelligence Practices of State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies

By David L. Carter, Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan; Steven M. Chermak, Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan; Edmund F. McGarrell, Director and Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, and Member, IACP Research Advisory Committee, IACP Environmental Crimes Committee; and Jeremy G. Carter, Assistant Professor, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida

The IACP Research Advisory Committee is proud to offer the monthly “Research in Brief” column. This column will feature
evidence-based research summaries that highlight actionable recommendations for Police Chief magazine readers to consider within their own agencies.
The goal of the column is to feature research that is innovative, credible, and relevant to a diverse law enforcement audience.

ne of the major trends in law enforcement has been changing expectations regarding criminal intelligence practices among state, local, and tribal (SLT) law enforcement agencies. Enhancing intelligence efforts has emerged as a critical issue for the prevention of terrorist acts as well as for addressing criminal threats. An increasing number of SLT law enforcement agencies have expanded their intelligence capacities. Moreover, critical to expanding information sharing expectations is the institutionalization of fusion centers. Despite these dramatic changes, little research exists that highlights issues related to the intelligence practices of SLT law enforcement agencies and fusion centers.

This Research in Brief is a first step in filling this knowledge gap. The findings are based on a national survey of personnel from fusion centers and SLT officers who examined the experiences of SLT agencies and fusion centers for building an intelligence capacity and understanding critical gaps in the sharing of intelligence.


There were several important findings. First, it appears that significant progress has been made in installing fundamental policy and procedures related to building an intelligence capacity. Respondents indicated that they are familiar with intelligence guidelines and standards, have a good working knowledge of threats in their communities, and have some working knowledge of intelligence-led policing.

Second, despite the progress made, there is significant room for improvement and development. Although respondents indicated that they are familiar with national guidelines, they expressed the belief that the policies and procedures within their agency have yet to reconcile with these requirements. Similarly, the respondents noted they are aware of the threats but there are shortages in resources and personnel in processing this intelligence.

Third, critical to prevention and response is the sharing of information. It is clear that a wide range of law enforcement, community, government, and private businesses may have information that is important to the intelligence fusion process. Both SLT and fusion center respondents indicated that that they have worked at building relationships with different agencies—especially other law enforcement agencies,—but fusion centers have closer relationships with a more diverse range of agencies.

Fourth, although many information linkages have been established, the respondents think the relationships need further development to ensure consistent, substantive, and timely information sharing. There is an overwhelming amount of information going into and out of these agencies, and it is likely that there are missed opportunities for strategic and tactical understanding of homeland security and criminal threats.

Finally, both SLT and fusion center respondents agreed that the quality of intelligence products produced should be critical to the assessment of performance by analysts.

Policy Implications

Action Areas
  1. All SLT agencies should connect with their regional fusion centers.
  2. Review national guidelines and selfassessment instruments on intelligence sharing to assess your agency’s capacity:

    1. Audit Checklist for the Criminal Intelligence Function, (accessed May 3, 2012).
    2. Self-assessment tool from Michigan State University, (accessed May 3, 2012).
    3. Law Enforcement Intelligence: A Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement, (accessed May 3, 2012).
This project was supported by Award No. 2008-IJ-CX-0007 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.
Interested in submitting a research summary for Research in Brief? Email

The status of law enforcement intelligence in SLT agencies appears to be similar to the early development of community-oriented and problem-solving policing during the early 1990s. Law enforcement officers and executives recognize the importance of intelligence, yet the implementation of law enforcement intelligence remains uneven a decade after 9/11. Several factors may contribute to this. First, the philosophical underpinnings of law enforcement intelligence was significantly changed and broadened; hence, a resocialization process among intelligence personnel had to occur. Second, while the 9/11 attacks remain as the benchmark for change, in reality, new standards—the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan and training programs, for example—did not emerge until 2003. Third, it simply takes time to develop new organizations such as fusion centers and incorporate them at an operational level. Similarly, training and developing new policies in the 16,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies is a massive task.

Although the results of this study point to clear progress in the development of law enforcement intelligence capacity, it also revealed challenges. Clearly, there is a need for the commitment of resources in the form of personnel and training. Given the federated and decentralized structure of law enforcement in the United States, it is critical that midsize to large agencies have analysts who can conduct local level analyses as well as push information and intelligence to fusion centers. Small agencies need to have intelligence liaison officers who can serve as intermediaries in the intelligence network. This requires commitment of resources at a time that many agencies are not hiring or even cutting personnel.

While many executives acknowledge that the use of analysts makes the agency work smarter, thereby having a great effect on crime and community order, it remains a difficult concept to sell. Greater attention by management needs to be provided for the professional development of intelligence analysts to increase the quality and the utility of analytic outputs. ♦


1The details of this study are available in the following: David L. Carter et al., Understanding the Intelligence Practices of State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies (final reported submitted to the National Institute of Justice), October 1, 2011, (accessed May 8, 2012).

Please cite as:

David L. Carter et al., "Understanding the Intelligence Practices of State, Local, and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies," Research in Brief The Police Chief 79 (June 2012): 10–11.

Click to view the digital edition.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 6, June 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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