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What is Criminal Intelligence?

By Christopher John
Updated May 16, 2024
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Criminal intelligence is jargon for information that an expert has analyzed for law enforcement and crime prevention purposes. Law enforcement agencies gather information from numerous sources using a variety of methods. This information becomes criminal intelligence after it is analyzed. Members of law enforcement call it an intelligence product or an information product. They distribute the intelligence product to other agencies, police units, detectives, or other officials for appropriate action and/or decision making.

Police officers, detectives, and other types of law enforcement agents gather information about suspect criminal activity with methods such as wiretaps, surveillance, informants, and interrogations. The gathering techniques, however, are not criminal intelligence. The methods are simply collection tools. The information collected is called raw information because their experts haven’t analyzed it. This raw information is provided to an intelligence analyst or an intelligence officer specially trained to evaluate, organize, and assess the material.

An expert evaluates the raw information by determining whether it is reliable. Reliability often depends on the source of the information. The officer also tries to verify information by comparing and combining the information with other data previously collected. It is then organized and recorded in a database for future use or distributed for follow up.

Law enforcement officers use criminal intelligence in different ways. On one level, they may use product to take some type of immediate action such as arresting a specific person. It may also be used to help a detective gather evidence to help prosecutors convict a suspect in court. Intelligence used in this manner is a tactical application, which is the most common type. A tactical application means police agencies use criminal intelligence to respond directly to criminal activity.

Other departments may use criminal intelligence for long-term planning. This may involve making decisions on how to deploy limited resources. For instance, the intelligence product may indicate that organized crime is becoming a larger threat in a particular geographic area. This may allow authorities to prioritize resources to train special units to fight a particular crime threat and disrupt the activity.

Criminal intelligence may also help experts identify new patterns of criminal activity. Analyzing information, for example, may help an expert understand the factors that robberies and robbery victims have in common. If law enforcement gains a new understanding of when robberies occur and what makes someone more likely to be a victim may, it may allow the authorities to take a proactive approach to fighting crime. In other words, rather than responding to crime after the fact, a proactive approach can prevent and reduce crime.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Nov 23, 2014

@serenesurface-- Police officers and detectives solve crimes. Criminal intelligence analysts do not. They collect information about who is committing crimes, where and why. They look for trends and patterns and brainstorm ways of reducing crime.

You can think of a crime investigator role as a response to crime, where the aim is to catch the criminals and make sure they are punished for their crimes. The role of a criminal intelligence analyst is to predict crimes by assessing the intelligence information they have. This way, they aim to prevent the crimes from taking place in the first place.

By bear78 — On Nov 22, 2014

@serenesurface-- Well, criminal intelligence may be collected, analyzed and used by different individuals. It depends on the agency and how the agency prefers to do thing. Sometimes an entire agency has a role in this process.

The whole point of gathering criminal intelligence is to identify and prevent criminal activity. In the US, there are different law enforcement agencies that do this work such as the police and FBI. The military and national security agencies also engage in the collection and analysis of criminal intelligence.

So there isn't a hard and fast rule about which positions within an agency carries out the tasks involved in this process. There are also times when agencies work together with multiple groups.

By serenesurface — On Nov 21, 2014

I thought that police officers and detectives collect information and detectives analyze it to solve crimes. But I guess I was wrong. Is it always the case that each stage of the criminal intelligence process is carried out by someone else?

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