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Technology bridging gap between federal, regional, local agency information sharing

Written by Stephen G. Serrao

The concept of analytical-driven threat assessment is still very new to law enforcement. In fact, officers on the street harbor disdain for this approach to investigation because they believe it distracts them from doing their jobs—catching criminals and locking them up. In the wake of 9/11, however, intelligence mandates require analytical-driven policing and greater information sharing among federal, state and local authorities in the battle against crime and terrorism. While these are noteworthy goals, the current state of affairs speaks differently. Coordination of intelligence between federal, state and local agencies is still inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Federal authorities rarely, and then only manually, tap state tips-and-lead management systems to investigate suspicious activities and trends. Additionally, all feeds of local suspicious activity information are manually fed to the FBI Guardian System.

The FBI has had limited exposure to training and access to state and local information systems and, consequently, cannot access the information they need in real time. Fusion centers, which are the intra- and inter-state mechanism for exchanging information and intelligence to prevent attacks, are just realizing the value of integrating multiple data sources, including local intelligence systems.

There are bright spots, though. The FBI has begun to place Field Intelligence Group personnel at state and local fusion centers in an effort to make the state-federal connection more seamless. The DHS also has begun to co-locate analytical personnel at state and local fusion centers. The Regional Information Sharing System Network (RISSNET) continues to act as a facilitator in the sharing of intelligence and helps coordinate efforts against criminal networks that operate across jurisdictional lines in many locations. LEO (Law Enforcement Online) and Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), two national interactive communications systems and information services, are more routinely used by the state and local law enforcement communities. In addition, the National Data Exchange System has gone live. This system will provide unprecedented national access to local law enforcement records management systems. However, the challenge of successfully managing the significant protocol and procedures related to criminal intelligence information still remains. Part of the strategy to overcome this obstacle is the use of automated and computerized intelligence management and analysis systems. These systems can play a vital role in supporting and enforcing the necessary processes that support the collection, management and development of intelligence. They also provide for the efficient and secure sharing of information between law enforcement partners at all levels.

The Trust Factor

Technology also can play a leading role in building trust among the different entities managing the data. While collecting information is important, disseminating it is paramount. Information sharing needs to be facilitated via automation and a rules-based model, limiting the need for human intervention. Policies can be enforced to alert officials when their searches result in hits pertaining to issues that are pertinent and important to them. Secure and scalable platforms that take into account multiple users, access levels and methods of sharing intelligence in today’s dynamic intelligence environment are crucial to the successful sharing of raw information, and unfinished and finished intelligence products.

During the critical development stage of any intelligence-led operation, an intelligence system should support the evaluation of information and the development of structured intelligence records, using tools that automate the creation and the linking of those records to their sources, as mandated by federal regulation. Of necessity, it should support security to its lowest level, locking not only entire records, but also parts of those records through a flexible security definition system.

In addition, powerful visualization tools are necessary to help investigators and analysts connect seemingly disparate data, understand complex scenarios, and identify hidden relationships and links between data. Workflow management tools should be flexible enough to suit all staffing levels and experience. The input and retrieval of data should not be restricted to one specialist unit, since all information is potentially valuable to an agency. Since real-time information is critical in the fight against crime and terrorism, the system’s information-sharing tools must reduce barriers so information is available to those who need it most.

Information That Bears Analysis

As more and more information-sharing centers become a reality, they need to leverage the institutional knowledge that exists in law enforcement agencies and take full advantage of existing and developing technology. The daily examination of the influx of data is important so analysts can make judgments about the severity of threats. While a common activity for the military, the law enforcement community has yet to fully embrace the absolute need for employing analytical processes, technologies, training and expertise. All are necessary in a post-9/11 policing environment. Good technology with properly trained investigators and analysts behind it can begin to bridge the information-sharing gap and aid in the fight against crime and terrorism.

Captain Stephen G. Serrao is the director of product management, Americas Region, for Memex Inc., a leading worldwide provider of intelligence management, data integration and analysis solutions (www.memex.com). He can be reached at steve.serrrao@memex.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2009

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