Nationwide SAR Initiative

Posted on 25 March 2011 by

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Yesterday I wrote about the need for officers to write down stuff that they thought was important, trying to formalize ways to tap into the bounteous harvest of HUMINT that is the police force at large.

Today, Libby Stengel over at GroupIntel wrote an excellent post about this very topic.

In her post, Stengel discusses the national effort to memorialize these data, the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.

The NSI, in the words of its own website,

“…is an outgrowth of a number of separate but related activities over the last several years that respond directly to the mandate to establish a “unified process for reporting, tracking, and accessing [SARs]” in a manner that rigorously protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, as called for in the National Strategy for Information Sharing.”

Stengel is much better at turning this into meaningful English:

The Nationwide SAR Initiative (NSI) was created to capture suspicious activity on a local or state basis but avails the data for national sharing.  SAR data does not contain reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or criminal predicate but is still more remarkable than regular Dispatch, Field Interview or Incident Reports.  In fact, the data point could have a terrorism link that you may not be aware of.  The officer or citizen that creates a SAR based on their expertise and experience about a situation that they witnessed but they cannot assign a specific criminal activity to it.  Something just doesn’t sit right about what they are seeing.

That is precisely the thing that I was discussing, and I am glad more analysts are talking about it. I highly recommend reading Stengel’s post.

Unfortunately, I don’t recommend the actual NSI website or downloading the training, wherein you’ll find pablum. After the prerequisite federal agency ego-stroking of local cops (“You are the nation’s strongest force in the fight against terrorism.  As a frontline law enforcement officer, you are trained to recognize behaviors and activities that are suspicious…” blah, blah blah) there is the all-too-familiar continuation into a couple thousand words that treat local cops as if they’re simian.

Approximately six of the nine pages are devoted to high-level politically correct admonitions to obey the law. There’s some helpful stuff about What, When, Why, How that we learned in minute two of day one of the police academy.

There’s this helpful statement of the obvious for those who have been literally asleep since 9/11, or those who have refused to take steps to understand the fundamentals of their chosen profession:

Like other criminals, terrorists engage in precursor actions to carry out their plot for destruction. They make plans, acquire materials, engage in intelligence collection, and often commit other criminal activities in support of their plan. These actions produce activities or behaviors that may be suspicious, indicators of what may lie ahead, or possible pieces to a larger puzzle.

That is not to say that the entire nine pages is without merit. This sentence from the training raises a point that is highly crucial for law enforcement officers to understand, and for local LEOs to recognize truly applies to them – that they individually can make a difference:

By identifying, documenting, and sharing information regarding suspicious behaviors and activities that have a potential terrorism nexus, we will all be better prepared to prevent future terrorist attacks in our communities.

There is a – no kidding – helpful list of specific examples of things to watch for, which I won’t list.

But the training document focuses entirely on terrorist activity observation and reporting, to support a role of police officers as front-line observers of terrorist activity. In that, this training typifies the misguided understanding by the federal government of the value of local law enforcement. I have often said that, when someone sees a suspicious package, they don’t dial “F-B-I”, they dial “9-1-1”. The level of training at the local level does not support this national imperative. It usually resembles this.

We’ll be writing a lot more on this in the future.

Meantime, the post I wrote yesterday, and posts like Stegel’s, should help local, county and state law enforcement agencies think about the ways in which we must improve our internal capabilities to capture that rich vane of intelligence which currently eludes us: that gathered by our patrol officers on a daily basis.