Ending Mass Killings in the U.S.- A radical approach.

There is a small group of law enforcement professionals in the United States who look at mass shootings and say, “We could have stopped this.” Such a phrase is not hyperbole or a sign of hubris rather it is a reflection of type of work we engage in each day. Our job is not sexy, it does not lend itself to war stories or dramatic conflicts and in most circles it is regarded with nothing more than a shrug of indifference. When the word “assessment” enters the conversation it is almost immediately set alongside crime analysis and elven magic. The world of threat assessments is seldom understood and appreciated even less, however when looking at the current state of mass murders in the United States, threat assessments may be the only answer.

In almost every mass shooting over the last decade, the suspects announced their intentions in one form or another. It is true that in a few cases, the suspects’ capability of waging asymmetric warfare on humanity caught everyone by surprise. However, in most cases during a post incident review, trained professionals saw pre-indicators of the attack and had they been in the right positions, could have intervened. It is time now that these professionals move from post incident commentary to pre-incident actions. To do this, some changes need to be made.

The first is in the law enforcement culture. Agencies need to focus on moving from a reactive force to a pro-active, intelligence led entity. Intelligence led policing (ILP) is the foundation upon which true threat assessments are built. Agencies with an established intelligence cycle will find assessments a force multiplier. The concepts of ILP have been hijacked in recent years by command staffs bent on adapting their procedures to the newest technology. In doing so, the emphasis has been removed from human analysis and placed on sophisticated algorithms promising everything from temporal to predictive analysis. The unfortunate proof of their monumental failures is found in Arizona, Connecticut, and California. At the end of the day, ILP is about the intelligence cycle not artificial intelligence.

The second change is in the mental health system. A true assessment of a person’s capacity for murder will only be complete with the opinions and analysis of mental health professionals. Law enforcement threat analysts have expressed major frustration with the chasm between them and the medical community. The medical industry must realize that HIPAA has been turned from a protective oversight to an impenetrable brick wall used more as a liability shield than a patient’s right. Threat analysts working with psychologists would offer a powerhouse team of professionals dedicated to preventing mass killings while at the same time respecting the sacred nature of patient privacy. Furthermore, only mental health professionals know the enigmatic system and how to leverage it to get people the help they need before bullets are fired.

Finally, the public has to change the conversation about mass killings. This has never been about political affiliations or allegiances. It has always been about man’s inhumanity to man. Each time a human being is rundown, stabbed, or shot in a mass killing the nation loses a little of its’ soul. As pundits and fear mongers race to the closest microphones, men and women across the country beg the heavens to make it “not their baby” or sink in thankful prayer they have been spared. The conversation needs to focus on making this stop. Making it stop means getting to the root of the problem which in many cases is mental health, indifference to suffering, and yes even terrorism. Some of these things can be countered in the home, for the others there are resources available. People need to know there is a way to counter this problem and it has little to do with slogans and focus groups.

The power to stop mass killings exists. Through competent cooperative assessments based on true intelligence led concepts, threat analysts can and will stem the tide of mass murder. As stated earlier, it will require some changes, but the changes are not so radical when compared to the suffering each incident brings the public.

Using Risk to Fight Crime?

Risk, risk management, and risk mitigation strategies have existed in one form or another for several years in banking and business. The discipline of risk management however tends to be ignored when it comes to law enforcement. This is not to say law enforcement is unfamiliar with risk, they most certainly are, but they tend to see risk only in terms of measuring officer safety. Risk management strategies can also be used to fight crime in a more efficient and effective manner.

Risk requires four elements; context, environment, actions, and consequences. In law enforcement the consequences are always the same; crime. Therefore the other three elements serve as the core of crime prevention through risk management. The best way to describe this is to use a scenario. Take an alley between two multi-level buildings. Alone, the alley represents nothing, and based on its simplicity is not at risk of crime. Take that same alley and change the environment to nighttime, say 9:35pm and add the context of the alley being the quickest route from the local library to St. Mary’s college. With these factors in the place, the alley begins to look more and more like a breeding ground for crime, but we still need actions, which in law enforcement comes in the form of suspects and victims. Suspect actions typically fall closely in line with environment, as in you will find more drug users around drug houses and potentially more vehicle burglary suspects in shopping mall parking lots. In this case, let’s assume this dark alley is the meeting place for small time street robbers and thieves of opportunity. The final element needed to make this scenario come to life is the actions of a victim. Namely, they need to enter the alley.

There are many ways of looking at the alley scenario. Each one requires that law enforcement see the alley and all of its elements as precursors to crime. This conclusion well in place, we must now look at how to prevent the crime. Some law enforcement minds would respond by increasing marked car patrols in the area of the alley. The thought being, “bad guys don’t like the police and will stop being bad guys while we are around.” In terms of basic crime prevention this is a questionable practice, but in terms of risk management it’s absolutely useless. Random patrols do not remove any of the elements of risk we identified above. From a pure risk management standpoint we need to remove one or more of the elements creating the risk. The addition of sufficient lighting for example will affect the environment as will visible CCTV cameras. Public outreach on the part of the school to educate the students on the dangers of walking alone will mitigate the risk of a solo student using the alley. Finally the use of strategic policing, focusing on high risk suspects in the area, will mitigate the chances a suspect and victim will meet in the alley.

The alley example is an obvious oversimplification of larger criminal problems however the same basic principle applies across the board. If a neighborhood is known for gang activity, it is incumbent on the police to examine the area from a risk management stand-point and move strategically to counter the gang problem. The same can be said for neighborhoods known for burglaries, intersections known for collisions, and apartment complexes famous for drug crime. Simply forming task forces with the stated goal of arrests, does nothing to mitigate further risk. However when you remove one element from each of these criminal equations, your chances of diminishing the risk of continued crime increases exponentially. This also places the police agency in a position to form crime eradication strategies to hopefully bring safety and security to the area.

Risk based policing fits neatly with intelligence led policing techniques in that it is most successful after a full examination of the criminal dynamic has taken place. This furthers the goal of efficient resource allocation. As technology continues to spring forward the use of social networking and digital communications will increase the success of risk based policing. Risk based policing is not a panacea, but it is a far more effective strategy than random police patrols or strategies based solely on high arrest statistics.


What is ILP and why should I care?

We have all seen the latest and greatest programs come and go in law enforcement.  Community Policing (CP), Problem Oriented Policing (POP), and CompStat have all etched their legacies in the industry. Along with these programs come flocks of new gadgets, the latest technology, and of course money. There is a simple method however, that does not rely solely on gadgets nor does it require a lot of money; Intelligence Led Policing (ILP).

The national intelligence community is shrouded in secrecy and for good reason. There are however some publicly known intelligence processes that are directly applicable to law enforcement. The first is the intelligence cycle. The CIA perfected this cycle and its use has been seen in most state level fusion centers across the United States. It would take several pages to do justice to the intelligence cycle so for the sake of brevity we will just list the steps. They are planning, collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination. The cycle is named such because after dissemination analysts collect information on the results and start the cycle again. The intelligence process is at the core of intelligence led policing.

In law enforcement the intelligence cycle manifests itself as follows; an analyst notices an uptick in burglaries in a specific neighborhood. She feels the uptick might be indicative of an organized crew. She creates a collection plan with the sole purpose of answering the question; who are the suspects? She then requests all information related to the crimes. Patrol officers and detectives begin sending all they know about the burglaries to the analyst. She sorts the information into categories and begins to analyze it all for clues. Once analyzed, she produces a document with refined, actionable information (also called intelligence) including suspect information, vehicles, and a basic temporal analysis indicating the most probable time of day for the crimes. Patrol squads take the information and modify their patrol tactics to concentrate on the area most at risk for the burglaries. Specialty units employ covert assets and surveillance on investigative leads. As each unit finishes a task, they report their findings to the analyst who continues through the cycle exploring new leads and eliminating dead-ends. Finally, a coordinated effort leads to the arrest of the burglary crew.

ILP is not simply the reactive process as described above. A true ILP strategy confronts all three law enforcement needs; prevention, detection, and prosecution. It can be said that once a strong ILP strategy takes hold in an agency, they begin to steps in front of crime. This specific process will be explained in a follow-up entry. A strong ILP strategy is also scalable to fit every problem encountered in modern policing. The template can expand or contract based on the criminal trends. For example a series of shoplifts may only require one cycle to identify the suspects and end the criminal threat. Other crime series may require an ILP strategy that deploys to meet all three needs at once. A narcotics ring or stolen merchandise crew are examples. What is paramount in any series is a willingness by all personnel to let the cycle run its course and not try short cuts or combine old strategies simply because “they worked years ago.”

ILP strategies are also scalable to the technological capabilities of each agency. A true intelligence led process does not rely on high priced technologies to function, although a robust data extraction program is helpful. While many software programs are “a good fit”, basic data extraction and management can be accomplished through the creation of workflows deployed by human analysts. Of course, the larger the data set, the bigger the technological need, but the base level ILP templates can run without expensive software. History has shown that an overreliance on technology dulls certain law enforcement skills therefore all ILP strategies must have a healthy mixture of technology and human influence.

There will always be roadblocks to implementing ILP templates in an agency. Chief among them will be the stigma associated with allowing “intelligence” to lead investigations. Due to a cultural misunderstanding of what criminal intelligence is, many agencies will balk at accepting ILP or will adopt a light ILP strategy only to fill it with their own contradicting best practices. The key to ILP is to show officers and detectives a direct benefit to them. Patrol officers want to detect and prosecute crime, but general patrol is the least successful means of accomplishing this. Directed patrol however, meaning patrol led by intelligence, not only suppresses crime, it allows the officers to “hunt bad guys” in an efficient manner. Other roadblocks will arise, but they can all be overcome. Like industry, law enforcement must evolve. Officers can either be perpetually reactive or they can leap forward and proactively combat the criminal threat. Intelligence led policing is the spring board for this leap.