Building A Law Enforcement Intelligence Operation Center, Part I

Posted on 6 April 2011 by


Detective Sergeant Patrick Ryder, Nassau County Police Department

Patrick Ryder is the commanding officer of the asset forfeiture and intelligence division of the Nassau County, NY Police Department. Paddy, a 28-year veteran officer,  has created and runs one of America’s most comprehensive local law enforcement intelligence operations. He also is in charge of the asset forfeiture division that has provided funding to establish and expand that operation.

This week and next week he joins us on the PLI Podcast.

Listen to the podcast | Download via iTunes here

The NCPD Real Time Intelligence Center is Paddy’s brainchild, and it produces something which we recently described as straight out of 24.

In this article, which is an overview of the topics covered in Part I of the podcast interview with Paddy, we will cover the basics of how he and the NCPD established the operation, how they funded it, what tools they used, the overriding philosophy guiding the center, and how it has worked.

Next week, in Part II, we will talk about some specific applications, and discuss the gang war that the NCPD recently confronted.

There are around 1.3 million people in Nassau County, which comprises many suburban towns just east of New York City on Long Island. The jurisdiction includes eight precincts, and there are 17 village, and two city, police departments within the county.

The NCPD intelligence division was established to share information among NYPD, Nassau and Suffolk counties as a HIDTA-RIC – High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Regional Intelligence Center. It began with two assigned detectives, working Monday to Friday, but soon the agency began realizing the strategic impact of intelligence on its operations, and expanded.

Over the past three years, Ryder and the NCPD used state grant funds, HIDTA and asset forfeiture money to expand to the current nine detectives, three civilian analysts, two clerical analysts and another Detective Sergeant at the NCPD Intel Center. Additionally, each of the NCPD’s eight precincts also employs a civilian intelligence analyst. All reports and information and intel generated within the department – from reports of assisting civilians to arrests, intelligence, complaints – come from the precincts to the Intel Center.

The project began with HIDTA funding of about $100,000 per year, which was used to purchase technology and equipment. Ryder then went to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice, which added about $500,000 of grant money to create a facility which would coordinate intelligence for agencies throughout the state of New York – outside New York City.

The agency began doing asset forfeiture in 1992 when new federal asset forfeiture standards were created. NCPD pursued aggressively every opportunity to remove assets from criminals – the funding they receive from it continues to fund things like bike patrol, new tactical vehicles, training, equipment and technology. Most of the rest of the intelligence division expansion was funded with about $1 million in asset forfeitures from financial crimes or money laundering, and asset forfeiture continues to support the intelligence operation.

NCPD takes asset forfeiture seriously: currently there are two detectives assigned full time to the IRS criminal investigation division and two assigned to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s El Dorado unit, which concentrates on money laundering.

NCPD also has six other detectives working with the DEA, and other federal, state and local agencies to assist in their investigations. By doing this, Ryder says can sell his intelligence product for money – if NCPD assists a DEA case, it shares proportionally in the assets seized from any arrests.

Ryder reckons major crimes were down 11% last year within its jurisdiction, and in the first quarter of 2011 major crime is down 17%. That $1 million was spent over the last two years on technology, training, awareness programs. One hundred percent of overtime pay, training and equipment purchases have been paid for by asset forfeiture.

Intelligence Operations: Startup
There are two things that Ryder makes clear. First, there’s a vast different between data and information and intelligence. Second, there is no such thing as a turnkey intelligence operation – everything you do has to be looked at as part of the intelligence lifecycle.

To start an intelligence operation center, Ryder says you have to think small, have basic and easily articulated goals, and keep it very simple. He used basic Microsoft products, and open source web tools. In the beginning, all he and the other intelligence detective accessed were local criminal databases and one commercial program, CLEAR. They would then synthesize the data, analyze it and create an analysis product and distribute it.

The first step, he says, is to bring in detectives, not civilian analysts. That’s not a knock against civilians, it’s to establish a “coply camaraderie” between the detective/analyst and the cops with whom he will be dealing.

Once this rapport has been established, you can bring in civilian analysts, which opens a world of resources including those from the academic world, to combine these with the practical experience the unity has gained to date. By merging these, the strength of the intel center continues to grow – the academics have opened a whole new perspective on crime fighting.

Ryder says that he has moved from the COMPSTAT model – which he feels is great in the way it holds accountable commanding officers on resource usage and crime – to a more intelligence-led policing program in which he brings all the data together in one place, then disseminates it using compelling, interactive intelligence products like touch screens and interactive maps. The center uses Google Earth – they started with the free version and recently moved to the paid product; MapPoint and other Microsoft products like Access, PowerPoint and Word round out the basic suite. These days the NCPD also has more sophisticated tools as well.

By initially bringing in the first two detectives, Ryder managed to break the ice between the intel unit and other detectives.  When he brought in the civilians, they were better accepted by the police rank and file.

Real Time Intelligence
Once the intelligence operation was up and running, Ryder put together his crown jewel, the Real Time Intelligence product, a channel onto which he broadcasts completed intelligence products 24 hour a day. The information is accessed by large touch-screen, flat-screen TVs that hang in every precinct in NCPD, and is available via VPN access.

We like the screens because they follow all the rules we think cop technology should follow (as we laid out in the PLI Podcast, the Three Golden Rules of Law Enforcement Technology): it is integrated (providing access to information and intelligence reports from around the county). It is simple (very cop-friendly buttons, menus, check-boxes and maps). And it has tremendous utility (it lets you home in on precisely the kind of information you need, quickly).

Lacking IT resources, Ryder brought in college interns to help design the basic look and feel and interactive components of the product, and within 30 days they had built the first web-accessible version of his Real Time Intel Dashboard.

It’s now grown tremendously since that humble beginning, displaying maps, crime data, pawn information, DWI stats, firearms, intelligence bulletins, gang databases and much more. Early success of the program led to expansion into the mobile data terminals (MDTs), to give officers real time intel in their patrol cars. Cops are great at collecting information, Ryder says, and NCPD uses cops on patrol to grab data as much as possible – just the kind of data collection we were referring to in our post on articulating hunches.

The reason that NCPD concentrates such resources on the Real Time intel program and those screens is that Ryder feels that the biggest problem in the intelligence cycle is dissemination of the finished product. Ryder says that his agency ran an anonymous survey of 100 officers, showing them several types of intelligence products including cop shooting bulletins, and that 95% of patrol officers said they had not seen them. That ultimately led to the Real Time screens in the cruisers and at the precinct.

Another innovative twist was, when a bulletin led to an arrest, to keep the bulletin on the system but to place in large letters across it, for example, “Captured by Officer Selby and Sergeant Henderson”.

This direct acknowledgement of officer participation and accomplishment stepped up the interest of the patrol officers in the program and the Real Time system.

Cross-Jurisdictional Sharing
One challenge NCPD faced was that, among the 19 other agencies within the county, each has its own records management system, dispatch system and information management issues. NCPD addresses this through weekly and monthly intelligence sharing meetings between all these agencies.

At these meetings, NCPD shares completed intelligence products with these agencies – reports that the NCPD’s analysts created, based on the raw data and information shared by these 19 agencies with the NCPD. In this way, Ryder assures a constant two-way flow of information, and simultaneously affords better analytic resources to the less well-heeled agencies within the county.

That engenders trust on their part to share more information with the NCPD. If the arrest is made, the notice of who made the arrest is placed prominently on the system, which is piped through to each agency.

Measuring Success
Ryder makes no bones about the fact that he’s selling a product. The system of crediting individual officers seems to have paid off – Ryder says that since installation, more than 650 warrants have been cleared directly as a result of the real time intel screen. NCPD has collected more than 600 DNA samples as a result of the program as well.

Some Cheap Wins

NCPD uses crime mapping to reveal hotspots. They then overlay the residences of probationers and parolees. Often this is a highly effective technique: looking at a crime map of, say, burglaries, the NCPD will create profiles of the residences of paroled burglars in the area. On the screen, a cop can drill down to the profiles – their photos, their descriptions, their records, the name and number for the parole officer – allowing patrol or detectives to have more context about them. On the NCPD Real Time screen, these are highly easy to view together.

What’s more, the department can call that paroled burglar’s parole officer and request that checking be done at the next check-in.

We like this immensely because it is great value for the money – all this data is generated in the department, and mappable on Google maps. It’s highly effective and very inexpensive to set up.

Nassau County (Google Maps)

The Corridor
The Corridor, where the majority of crime in Nassau County occurs, comprises an area that crosses the jurisdictional lines of the towns of Westbury, Hempstead, Uniondale, Freeport and Roosevelt, NY. The first order of business, then, was to establish better relationships with the two of those towns which had their own police departments – Freeport and Hempstead – and to begin formally sharing data.

One of the first things NCPD looked at was gang activity. There is strong gang activity in the county, and after the gang intelligence unit provides raw intelligence, Ryder’s team compiles gang member profiles and other profile data. He likens it to the card deck given to US soldiers entering Iraq.

So on the Real Time screen, one can drill down into an area and say, “Show me the Bloods or MS-13 gang members who live here,” and see the representation, and drill down further into specific profiles of those gang members. Again, this is accomplished using internal data, well represented and using inexpensive or free software tools for a highly powerful intelligence product. There are some 200 Bloods and 250 Crip members living in The Corridor. Shootings, drug dealing and homicides were out of control; this intelligence product helps the agency bring control over the gang members.

Gangs are also mapped over crime reports – for example when there is a shooting, the area of the shooting is overlaid with residences of known gang members. Along with information about the vehicles registered to, say, Crip and Blood members. A Crip related shooting? Which Bloods members live or are known to frequent nearby addresses? Are there any Bloods vehicles in the area? Let’s put a pole camera and a license plate reader in the area and watch what we see. The NCPD has used this intelligence capability to solve homicides which were in fact retribution killings between rival gang members.

“In intelligence led-policing … we’re giving [a cop] all the tools, giving him a direction and a purpose… He’s doing his omnipresence, his constant and irregular patrol, community policing, but we’re driving him with intel, to say, go here, go there, these are the bad guys, these are the people you want to talk to. Don’t just drive erratically – we’re going to point you in the right direction.”

Next Week
Pat returns to talk more about gun violence, license plate readers and how his agency tackled a gang war in which more than a hundred gun shots were fired. Using the intelligence capability he described in Part I, the NCPD set on a blitz against the gangs, and they stopped the shooting.