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Back to Archives | Back to June 2005 Contents 

Information Vs. Intelligence:What Police Executives Need to Know

By Lisa M. Palmieri, President, International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts, Framingham, Massachusetts

t is more vital than ever that law enforcement executives have every available tool to maintain public safety in their communities. Intelligence is one of the tools that must be used to achieve public safety goals, and intelligence analysis is instrumental to getting decision makers what they need.

The International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) has been hard at work for the past 25 years to bring standardization and professionalism to law enforcement analysts. IALEIA has worked behind the scenes to ensure that law enforcement had the quality of intelligence it needed to make use of the ever-growing sources of information available.

Another part of IALEIA's mission is to educate other law enforcement professionals regarding the process and the products of intelligence analysis. In accordance with this mission, IALEIA will present a workshop at the annual IACP conference in 2005 titled "White Noise: Turning the Flood of Raw Data into Actionable Intelligence." IALEIA hopes to continue the forward movement regarding intelligence in law enforcement and hopes to see a great turnout to support this effort.

The two most overused terms in public discourse regarding public safety today are "information" (as in "information sharing") and "intelligence." Some writers and speakers use the terms interchangeably, which is not only wrong but has the potential to derail efforts to prevent another major terrorist incident. Information is raw data; it could be an item obtained from a newspaper report, a statement made by a confidential informant, or simply an observation made by an astute police officer during a traffic stop. In and of itself, it is rare that action can or should be taken on raw, unevaluated information on its own. At some point, context must be provided; corroboration must be supplied; value must be added to this raw information. The major component of the process that turns raw information into something useful is analysis; the product is intelligence.

In military and national security circles, the process by which intelligence has been produced was given a name: the Intelligence Cycle. This process is what turns information into intelligence, which is something one can use to make decisions and take action. The steps of the intelligence cycle include planning, collection, evaluation, collation and organization, analysis, production, dissemination, and feedback, which should spur more collection, at which point the cycle begins again. Until recently, there were few departments in the United States at the local and state levels that were capable of producing intelligence; most often, the analytic component was missing.

The first problem that confusing the terms "information" and "intelligence" caused was that many agencies employed so-called analysts who were either unaware of or untrained in analysis and who were merely collecting and disseminating raw data. In some agencies, the ability to search databases was considered sufficient for analysts in law enforcement; this was strictly a law enforcement interpretation of the position. It has been pointed out in several public forums that the information to prevent the September 11, 2001, attacks was available, collected by someone, and stored somewhere; what was missing was the analysis that would have made all this information useful to decision makers.

In the months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, state and local law enforcement officials voiced their frustrations with the federal government's inability to warn them in advance. Many articles were published by the mass media where law enforcement executives demanded more information sharing and accused the FBI in particular of failing to share information. If these executives got what they asked for, they would be buried in uncorroborated, unevaluated white noise. At that time, very few state and local police departments had analytic capabilities, so being barraged with information would make local and state law enforcement agencies less prepared, not more prepared, to make decisions. This has unfortunately come to pass, with law enforcement agencies erring on the side of caution; they are sharing more piecemeal information than could ever be made useful in case any small detail might possibly be deemed important in retrospect.

On a more encouraging note, law enforcement is undergoing a real transformation and recognizing that intelligence is different from simple information and that analysis is necessary to turn the latter into the former. A white paper recently published by the Police Executive Research Forum emphasized that intelligence is what is needed to protect this country from threats to public safety: "It is only with a clear comprehension of the analytic process that one can fully explore the subsequent collection and sharing aspects of the intelligence function." This concept is reinforced in the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (NCISP), which emphasizes the role and importance of intelligence analysis, stating that such analysis is "vital to the production of usable, timely, and comprehensive intelligence."

IALEIA has served as a voice for intelligence analysts for 25 years and now hopes that law enforcement executives will give this profession the support it needs to do the job, support it must have to accomplish U.S. homeland security goals. Please join IALEIA in September at the annual IACP conference in Miami, and participate in this forum, which we hope will not only provide guidance but also create some productive dialog to help move things forward. ■

1Police Executive Research Forum, "Protecting Your Community from Terrorism: Strategies for Local Law Enforcement, Volume 4: The Production and Sharing of Intelligence," available at (
2 Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) Intelligence Working Group, National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, available at (



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 6, June 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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