Paige Keningale, PhD Researcher
Understanding the job of intelligence officers is comparable to a jigsaw puzzle; they begin with a few pieces, over time more pieces are gathered. As analysts their job is to make sense of the information and form a report that others can act on. However, analysts can never be certain that all the pieces are necessary, or if all the pieces have been collected or perhaps come from a different puzzle. During the 1990s, serious and organised crime became a top priority internationally, which saw the development of Intelligence-led Policing (ILP). ILP reinforces problem solving ways of dealing with increasingly sophisticated offenders and to reinforce this, in the UK, the National Criminal Intelligence Service created the National Intelligence Model (NIM) in 2000 (Ratcliff, 2008).
Drawing on my master’s research, during which I interviewed intelligence practitioners about the NIM, this blog discusses the limits of the National Intelligence Model identified by my interviewees- culture, dynamic decision making and information sharing- and how these can lead to intelligence failures.
The National Intelligence Model
The NIM is a business framework which provides structure in a police investigation to process information and turn this into actionable intelligence. Innes and Sheptycki (2004, p.6) explain the distinction between information and intelligence thus:
Information consists of bits of data that, when combined and viewed together with relevant background knowledge, may be used to produce intelligence, which informs the actions and decisions of policing organisations.
The NIM allows information to be processed through different points of the decision-making cycle, generating intelligence to act on (Police ICT, 2019):
- Setting strategic direction
- Making decisions through the gathering of information
- Allocating resources
- Developing tactical plans
- Tasking and co ordinating activity
The collection, development and dissemination of intelligence allows decisions to be made about priorities and tactical options. The NIM works at three levels: level one- Local/Basic Command Unit could include low value thefts and criminal damage. Level two- force and or regional which involves more than one local command unit, advice from national experts and bordering forces. Finally, level three- serious and organised crime which is on a national and international scale.
The Limits of the NIM
In practice, investigators are able to leap back and forth between each stage of the process outlined above which could affect the analysis and investigators cognitive processes when making decisions. Gill and Phythian (2012) note, that police forces are at varying stages of development with the NIM, which means it is interpreted differently in different places, with police investigators having a varied approach, thereby contradicting consistency the model promotes.
So, is the NIM a hinderance to investigations or is it a framework that is instrumental in today’s policing? I interviewed six intelligence practitioners, five were from police forces in the UK. This included a Sergeant and a Chief Inspector; one individual based at the Ministry of Defence, one individual had twenty-five years of intelligence analysis, one managed a team which investigated cybercrime and the final individual was based in the RAF. They described problems with the NIM in three themes bases on the applicability and effectiveness of the model: culture, dynamic decision making and sharing information.
When referring to culture one means how police culture has changed since the forces adopted ILP for the better but also, how culture is a key factor in the causation of intelligence failures. When discussing intelligence failures (e.g 9/11, 7/7 bombings) two respondents suggested that errors can occur from managers being overconfident. Two experienced police officers expressed:
When discussing cultures, many emphasise a lot of time serve, so someone who has served thirty years despite their competence their views will be considered over a junior who also knows how to use the information, but they are not valued enough.
Within the police there is very much a focus on police officers that they have the voice and analysts are staff members whose voices are probably less powerful.
This sentiment is also supported by a senior police professional
Senior police officers on the outside world show they are changing and they want to share things, however privately they are still very much I am the boss and we will do as I say.
This is a concern as analysts play a vital part in every investigation as they are the main source of information. Thus, culture must change to a more open-minded setting where top ranked police officers listen to analysts and take on board the suggestions which the individuals pose in terms of how to act on the available intelligence.
Practitioners described sharing information as a problem within their workplaces. This is supported by one respondent who provided the following answer:
Different organisations do not work together as it is classed as a hindrance to an effective investigation.
Senior officers are guilty of receiving information but then do not know what to do with it and don’t share it appropriately to those who know what to do with it.
This is of a concern due to there being a strong emphasis on the importance for organisations to understand other professionals and agencies and knowledge of the tasks performed by others (Alison and Crego, 2008).
However, one Sergeant in a police force spoke highly of analysts
My experience with police analysts, is that they are good at what they do, they won’t try to mask or embellish and they will say it how it is. I trust them very much in the products they produce are balanced.
From this, we could learn that analysts are valuable, and their voices must be heard. Instead of police forces just simply obtaining the reports produced by these experts, analysts must be seen as a key player during investigations, whom are able to make decisions and guide intelligence practitioners throughout for positive outcomes.
Dynamic decision making
Dynamic decision making discusses the pressures of the environment which the practitioners work in and how that can negatively impact decision making. One interviewee stated:
It is down to the analysts to take that step back, understand you are not going to have all the information all the time. The analogy of 80% of information on time is better than 100% information late.
Indeed, analysts want to improve their performance especially under such pressure however, to do this, analysts must remember their past decisions, knowing what they knew at the time and how the decision was made, this can be achieved by having a decision log. The effectiveness of the evaluation process and of the learning process to which it gives depends on the accuracy of the decisions under the pressures of the environment which the practitioners work under.
The NIM which information is generated through still has gaps and those gaps can cause intelligence failures. Many articles, books and journals focus on the analysts needing to be more blue skied thinking about the possibilities or too poorly focused (Richards, 2010; Gill and Phythian, 2012; Reiner, 2010. However, as one respondent noted, there are concerns with police training:
I oversaw analysts in the second biggest police force in the country and some of those analysts never received training in eighteen months.
Thus, the above comment might suggest that intelligence failures exist, not due to failing of individuals, but due to a lack of training or because the training provided is not of an appropriate standard.
In summary, taking all the above limitations of the NIM highlighted by my past research into consideration, for the NIM to be as effective as hoped, analysts need training around the model. But most importantly, police culture needs to change and listen to those who are vital to investigations- the analysts. However, from the findings it seems that improvement is far in the distance, thus my PhD research continues to understand the operation of intelligence processes, critically examining how information is generated, recognising forward communication processes and understanding whether the NIM is appropriate for all levels of policing, all of which will be answered in my PhD research.
Paige Keningale is a PhD researcher in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @PKeningale LinkedIn: Paige Keningale