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Back to Archives | Back to February 2006 Contents 

Special Focus: Community Policing and Homeland Security

By Stephen Doherty, Chief of Police (Retired), Wakefield, Massachusetts, and Bradley G. Hibbard, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired), Massachusetts State Police

Photograph by Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo
Photograph by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA News Photo

omeland security begins with local law enforcement and the community. The collection of information at the community level is critical to the overall homeland se­curity mission. That's where it all starts for every city and town in the United States.

Unfortunately, it is still common to find that the fire and police professionals often don't know what the other discipline is doing, even in the smallest communities, and police and fire departments take for granted that the other discipline is aware of threat-related information. Police Chief mag­azine readers are encouraged to answer these questions:

  • When police officers are on a call and come across a resident with 50 gallons of chlorine in his basement, but no swimming pool in his back yard, do they know what to do?
  • When emergency medical personnel are on a medical aid call and observe five passports from different coun­tries, all bearing the same photograph, on the kitchen table, do they know what to do?
  • Do your personnel understand the significance of this information and share it with someone who might? Or do they forget this information at the end of the shift?

Integration of the Homeland Security Mission
One of the primary goals of the Massa­chusetts Law Enforcement Technology & Training Support Center (MALETTSC) is researching the integration of the home­land security mission into community policing. The MALETTSC is funded through a grant from the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. MALETTSC recently brought together first responders from police and fire services to explore the col­lection of information at the local level and the sharing of intelligence. The first group consisted of police chiefs and fire chiefs, and the second was composed of police and fire line-level personnel repre­senting the five homeland security re­gions in Massachusetts.

The focus group sessions were struc­tured to optimize community information collection and intelligence sharing and to assist the Commonwealth Fusion Center in the development of its information collec­tion plan.

The following priorities emerged as critical for improving the homeland secu­rity information collection and intelli­gence sharing process:

  • Training
  • Approachability
  • Promotion and outreach
  • Communication and follow-up Community Information Sources
  • The role of fire services in information sharing

First responders need to know how to cultivate information: what information to look for, how to collect it, and where to send it. The group concurred that multidisciplinary awareness training reduces the information gaps between police and fire, and must be embraced by each department's management to be effective. The starting point for homeland security must be with the chief executive officers of the local community. In addition, the department heads must be backed by a strong contribution from the elected leadership to facilitate the continuous development and integration of homeland security in every facet of community life.

The cultivation of community information depends heavily upon the first responder’s approachability. The fire service is deemed very approachable by community members and frequently receives unsolicited information. The same is true of emergency medical services during the course of rendering aid. Community members provide information and seek their assistance naturally. First responders must recognize these opportunities for information exchange as an important component of information collection to further the homeland security mission.

Community Information Sources
Law enforcement’s success in crime prevention may be attributed in many instances to its application of community policing, a fundamental tenet of which is approachability. These successes, with expanded application to all first responder disciplines, are fertile ground for cultivating community sources of information in the fight against terrorism.

When challenged with this issue, the Massachusetts focus group responded with numerous community information sources:

  • Neighborhood Watch—supported by local law enforcement, easily contacted and provided advisories of crime trends, source of information about suspicious activities
  • Hotels (clerks, security officers, housekeepers, food service workers, and entertainment staff members)—source of information about suspicious guests
  • Real estate agents—source of information about suspicious activities at properties and about location of wanted persons and undocumented residents
  • Storage facilities—source of information about explosive or hazardous materials or other items in storage that could be connected to terrorist or criminal activity
  • Religious groups—source of information about controversial religious speakers or visitors
  • Fraternal, social, and civic clubs—source of information about upcoming events
  • Colleges and universities (police officers, administrators, faculty clubs, student groups, and alumni association groups)—source of information about possession of hazardous materials, foreign exchange students, and controversial research, speakers, activities, and events
  • Printing shops—source of information about threatening or illegal photos and about requests for development of multiple photographs for false IDs
  • Business managers—source of information about purchasers of dangerous materials such as torches, propane, and blasting supplies
  • Transportation centers and tourist attractions—target-rich environments for terrorism and source of information about suspicious persons and activities
  • Major industrial enterprises (owners, security officers, and nearby neighbors)— source of information about potential threats and suspicious activities
  • Schools (teachers and administrators) source of information about suspicious activities
  • School and office building custodians source of information about students, employees, visitors, and after-hours activities
  • Health care providers (EMS drivers, doctors, and hospital employees)— source of information about unusual injuries, such as radiation and chemical burns, as well as mandatory reports of firearms and cutting injuries
  • Bar and liquor stores—source of information about suspicious conversations,observations, and activities
  • Inspectors and code enforcers source of information about suspi suspicious activities and materials, such as a large amount of fertilizer where there is no agricultural activity
  • Facility licenses-source of information about type of building, building plans, premise protection, fire suppression, and storage of hazmat materials
  • Licenses and permits (handgun, firearm, liquor, hackney, parade and event, blasting, business occupancy, and other types)-source of information about the background of licensees and permit holders
  • Delivery services (letter carriers, couriers, delivery drivers)-source of information about suspicious activities and packages
  • Department of public works employees and refuse haulers- source of information about strangers in the neighborhood, foreign substances in trash, inactivity or increased activity at a residence, and other suspicious persons and things
  • Housing managers (public housing, apartment complexes, and property management associations)-source of information about unusual rentals and other suspicious activities in the properties
  • Meter readers-source of information about unusual observations
  • Automobile and truck rental companies- source of information about items left behind in rented vehicles, method of payment, and departure and return details that arouse suspicion
  • Taxi and delivery drivers, many from countries of interest-source of information concerning activities and threats

    Information Collection Many sources of relevant information that could affect homeland security exist in every city and town. The information that police, fire, and ambulance personnel glean from the people they contact daily are the key to successful potential threat awareness. But, once identified, how is the information collected? The Massachusetts focus group offered many ideas regarding procedures for information collection:

  • In Person, and at Their Venue-You have to contact people that you wouldn't normally talk with. You can't just do the phone thing, you have to show up in person and get out there . . . face-to-face. You can't call the high school and ask for the custodian and expect instant trust. You need to go see him, and develop that relationship.
  • Neighborhood Watch/Crime Watch meetings-Listen to the residents. Cultural and ethnic groups might come to the attention of fire service through the permit or code inspection process. This is a great way to develop resources in different neighborhoods and a good way to collect information.
  • Approachable and Responsive- There are only three groups that community members can contact 24 hours a day: police, fire, and EMS. The personnel in these departments have to be willing to deal with situations and be approachable, not put up barriers and say "It's not my job." Take the time to listen and receive information. Leave your windows rolled down and don't shut out the community.
  • Follow-Up to Calls-Sometimes first responders must answer a call, collect information, and clear the scene for operational reasons-a quick turnover. But they should take the time to return the next day. That is when they are more likely to gather the important information, when there is time to speak with the person in an atmosphere that isn't driven by an incident. Returning to talk also lets the person know that their input is appreciated.
  • Importance of the Initial Call Taker-A caller's first contact sets the tone for their working relationship with the police, and the first point of contact is typically the 911 call taker. It represents the first opportunity to collect information. The initial contact person must be willing to listen and have the right attitude. If he or she has the wrong attitude or fails to address the caller's problem, the quality of information collected will deteriorate. Don't expect a second call.
  • Training and Organizational Philosophy Shift-All employees must understand their role in cultivating sources of information. Many assume it is the detective's job, but it is everyone's responsibility. Take a close look at the way information is collected in the department. It is necessary to listen and be willing to weed through the 90 percent of unimportant information to get the 10 percent that is usable. It's long and hard work, but the payoff is worth it. Collecting information involves more than training; it must be accepted and reinforced as an organizational philosophy that personnel be approachable, and act as sponges for information. It is important to explain to citizens the need to learn to identify what is abnormal, what doesn't fit in their environment, and what to do with the information once it is observed. Every first responder must teach this need to the local citizens.
  • Management Responsibility-Management needs to get behind and support information collection efforts. First responders have a tendency to go with what's hot this month and then wait out management, as there's bound to be another hot issue next month. Management must make information collection and sharing a priority every day.
  • Completeness and Accuracy of Information- Officers need to understand what information to collect, and how to completely and accurately report information, with as much detail as possible.

Leadership Initiation
Although there are many sources of information and methods of collecting it, there may not be any means of information sharing between a police chief and a fire chief, or a time and a place to ask questions and receive feedback from the other disciplines on community issues or local threats. As one of the most influential members of the community, the police chief must lead by example and demonstrate to the department's employees the importance of information sharing. This begins at the top. It may mean that the police chief goes across the street and meets with the fire chief.

Establish a mechanism where homeland security information awareness and collection becomes a routine. The best protective initiative is by sharing information; and this begins at home, in every community. Everyone plays a part. The challenge is yours. Take the lead.■

Editor's note: Chief Doherty and Lieutenant Colonel Hibbard are program managers at the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Technology & Training Support Center (   



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 2, February 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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