President’s Message: IACP Committed to Improving Information Sharing

Early in my career, I was part of a team of investigators that successfully convicted a serial killer who preyed on 12-year-old girls in Vermont. What brought these cases to a close was the collection of small bits of intelligence and existing information in databases that we were able to access. The sharing of intelligence information and its subsequent value to agencies from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security down to local police departments like mine.

For many years, law enforcement departments on the local, state, federal, and tribal levels have collected information on activity, suspects, and other subjects. At times, efforts have been made to analyze this information to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement; CompStat is probably the best-known example. And crime analysis has been a feature of community policing for a number of years. But only recently, it seems, have we begun to look critically at the astounding number of sources of information and explore how they might be accessed and the information used.

IACP has been fully invested in information sharing. In March 2002 we hosted a summit on criminal intelligence sharing that was the precursor of the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council and the National Intelligence Sharing Plan introduced by the Department of Justice in May of last year. We continue those efforts in several areas. Our Research Center has produced several documents, including A Police Chief’s Primer on Information Sharing, and IACP is a critical member of the Law Enforcement Information Technical Standards Council, which is working on national standards to provide wider access to information across platforms. And information sharing will have a high priority in our efforts this year to provide leadership in domestic preparedness and homeland security.

You may have read this striking comment in the executive summary of the report of the 9/11 Commission: “The system of ‘need to know’ should be replaced by a system of ‘need to share.'” This is telling commentary, given the source.

Despite lingering concerns and problems, there are many signs of success in this area that show us progress is being made:

  • Fusion centers are being stood up around the country that are staffed with intelligence analysts and operators, and their function is to search a dozens of disparate databases that an agency might not normally have a direct connection to and provide information on queries back to agencies. This concept is getting national attention, and there is even a suggestion that the fusion centers themselves be connected and coordinated.
  • As reported in our Capitol Report (volume 3, issue 24), President Bush has signed into law a comprehensive intelligence reform bill that is likely to affect both the collection and sharing of intelligence information.
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Law Enforcement Support Center, a 300-member unit, located coincidentally in my home state of Vermont, reports that it has provided responses to more than 670,000 immigration NLETS requests from law enforcement agencies in the past year.
  • The new relationship with Law Enforcement Online (LEO) and the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) located around the country has also streamlined how agencies can connect and access critical intelligence information a successful marriage of systems that at one point did not talk to each other.
  • The Terrorist Screening Center administered by the FBI manages 10 divergent databases dealing with possible terrorist scenarios and is triggered by a NCIC request and then coordinates “hits” with the operational component of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Watch Unit.

In the final analysis, we in law enforcement have many more resources today to draw on for intelligence information, but we must still take too many steps and go to too many sources for it, and we face too many restrictions on how the information can be shared. Even more information is becoming available through Internet sources, and the issue of personal privacy and constitutional protection from unreasonable searches by the police is an increasing concern. We must continue to work to find a balance that will allow us to get the information that we need quickly and with minimal effort while not abridging the rights of our constituents. We must at the same time bring down the barriers across our jurisdictional boundaries so that critical intelligence information is freely shared and accessible wherever it is needed.