The National Intelligence Model: The barriers to its success

Paige Keningale, PhD Researcher


The National Intelligence Model (NIM), first introduced in England and Wales in 2000, was portrayed as the major vehicle through which intelligence led policing (ILP) is being delivered in England and Wales (Tilley, 2008). It was intended to standardise policing practices and provided minimum standards to ensure the common employment of ILP as a policing paradigm (Newburn, Williamson and Wright, 2007). As such, compliance, or conformity with the NIM was deemed necessary to ensure a common system across all police services to accumulate, analyse and employ intelligence products to aid decision-making (Seidler and Adderley, 2013). This blog sets out the intelligence products and analytical techniques used within UK police forces and highlights limitations of the NIM that can potentially hinder the decision-making process. This blog draws upon the existing literature but also quotes participants from my past research, interviews with intelligence practitioners, which explored their cognitive processes when analysing information which could lead to intelligence failures (Keningale 2020).

Intelligence Products and Analytical Techniques

Police decisions are informed and supported by four intelligence products. Firstly, strategic assessment which aims to give an overview of the current and/or long-term issues affecting or likely to affect a force or basic command unit. These assessments assist the planning of decision-making within the intelligence unit, by drawing inferences and making recommendations for prevention, intelligence enforcement and future policing strategies (College of Policing, 2022). The strategic assessment is potentially the most significant document in the NIM process, due to its influence in determining the control strategy and its distillation of priorities from a broad range of sources (John and Maguire, 2004). The control strategy sets out and communicates the operational and long-term priorities for crime prevention.

The second product is a series of tactical assessment which involves identifying the short-term issues for consideration by the Tasking and Coordination Group (TCG) that will then be used to draw inferences about the available information and make recommendations for prevention and future policing activity (NCIS, 2000). The third product, subject profiles, aims to assist in the prioritisation of the information which is needed on the suspect and set long-term and short-term goals. They are usually developed by the TCG to provide a report of any suspect involved in the crime being investigated. The fourth intelligence products are problem profiles, which are similar to subject profiles, although this product provides a greater understanding of emerging crime or other high-risk concerns rather than focusing on people. The purpose of problem profiles is to provide an assessment of a specific problem or series of problems that may be criminal (College of Policing, 2022).

Related to the intelligence products are analytical techniques which assist decision-making – subject analysis, market profiles and risk analysis and results analysis –which evaluates the effectiveness of how any investigation was handled, the usefulness of resources and identifies good practice and issues that might have hindered the outcome (Lowenthal, 2008). Overall, the quality of each product is important to the effectiveness of the system as a whole. Having established the role of intelligence products and analytical techniques, it is possible to consider how the products are used within police services and to further understand the differentiated approaches when using the assessments to assist decision-making – noting that different products have different limits.

Limitation One: Quantity of intelligence reporting

In situations where intelligence-reporting is particularly voluminous it is not uncommon for out-of-date information to clutter up the information environment and which can eventually paralyse an intelligence system (Sheptycki, 2004). ‘Information overload’ is a result of problems associated with noise, however, it is also more than that and links to lack of analytical capacity and administrative support within law enforcement agencies. Administrative support includes supporting the internal operations of the organisations as well as the police services interactions with the community and other government agencies.

Limitation Two: Variation in the use of products

Forces’ varying understanding of NIM is a drawback in particular of strategic and tactical assessments (John and Maguire, 2004; Ratcliffe, 2004). Police services continue to approach the preparation and content of their strategic assessments very differently which could affect the decision-making and the reliability of the information analysed (John and Maguire, 2003). John and Maguire (2003) found some Basic Command Units’ assessments (both strategic and tactical) showed an unstructured collection of data on a range of crimes due to the variance of tasked assessments set by the TCG and Strategic Tasking and Coordination for different forces. Additionally, how the assessments are understood within the police force, and if these are/are not used correctly can affect the decision-making process.  

Performance indicators often dominated tactical assessments at the expense of other priorities. There was also a tendency for the tactical assessment to be retrospective rather than predictive in nature, focusing on trends that had arisen in the intervening period since the previous document was produced (John and Maguire 2004). Subsequently, tactical options decided upon tended to concentrate on short-term resolutions rather than looking at long-term interventions which the NIM aims to achieve (John and Maguire, 2004). The implications of short-term resolutions are that they overlook other pieces of intelligence and can disregard potential outcomes of an investigation.

Limitation Three: Lack of training

Subject profiles can play an important role within decision-making, yet John and Maguire (2004) found that there were inexperienced analysts using subject profiles and that there was a lack of training around subject profiles. This was supported by one respondent interviewed by the author who suggested that new/ less experienced analysts were not trained to a certain standard, but also more experienced analysts were not sufficiently trained:

“Some analysts work 16/17 hours a day analysing large sets of data without sufficient training. We need to educate the analysts but also the more experienced”

This can cause difficulties in terms of the reliability of analysed data and decision-making, due to the force and specific police personnel not fully understanding what information to prioritise and what actions are necessary.

Limitation Four: Time consuming

Problem profiles are useful in terms of decision-making, however these are often seen as time consuming as the police have to constantly identify links between their own information and information on other police databases (Aepli, Ribaux and Everett, 2011). Identifying pieces of data which are believed to assist the decision-making process is a challenging task and one that is unable to be achieved quickly, thus this may affect the outcome of the investigation if there are time constraints set by policymakers who need information fast.

Limitation Five: Uncritical/biased analysis

Analysis of data is a key stage of the operation of the NIM. For example, if the analyst is unable to clarify decisions and think critically when handling data, the decision-making process will become problematic (Richards, 2010). One respondent who was interviewed by the author argued:

“What leads to misinterpretations is whether that analyst understands the limitations, the provenance and apply the appropriate analytical techniques […] it’s like a bad workman blaming his tools”

Although many of the respondents who were analysts agreed that there is a lack of training, making the decision-making processes more challenging. The biggest problem they find is:

“People make the intelligence dirty when they first get it and put their own spin on things”

Biases can be the result of cognitive limitations, processing strategies, specific motivations, and cognitive styles. Analysts need to be aware of the dangers of ‘dirty intelligence’ as it can cloud their judgements which in turn, can negatively affect the decision-making process.

Limitation Six: Policymakers

Policymakers within the police are sometimes dissatisfied with what they get from intelligence analysts. Equally, analysts are sometimes frustrated by the apparent misuse or disuse of what they produce. Policymakers may pressure analysts and other police personnel for products so they (policymakers) can make an appropriate policy judgement in a timely fashion (Richards, 2010). One participant noted:

“There are constraints and pressures, you know…we will put resources into a different case due to their pressures of wanting and needing answers to their questions quickly”

However, such pressures can result in analysts making quick decisions and both the analyst and policymaker not fully understanding each other’s job role.

Closing remarks

The National Intelligence Model provides important opportunities for law enforcement managers, whether from the police service or another law enforcement agency. It aims to provide a picture that drives effective strategy, solving priority problems and targeting the most active offenders, as well as informing the management of risk (Richards, 2010). However, there have been many criticisms of the effectiveness of the model especially in relation to decision-making. I argue that not enough research has been conducted on the influence of policymakers and how this affects decision-making when using the NIM. Perhaps the College of Policing could delve further into some of the above limitations through funding future research in specific areas that seem most problematic within policing- providing solutions for the most pressing of the police’s problems that exist internally.  

Paige Keningale is a PhD Candidate in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey. Email:   LinkedIn: Paige Keningale

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s