New intelligence-led policing strategy strives to stop crime before it happens, not react after

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco was an officer in Fairfax, Va., in 2001, when terrorists crashed an airliner into the Pentagon.

The images and emotions of 9/11 never left Nocco, who announced last week that he's taking the Sheriff's Office in a new direction. He plans to implement a method called "intelligence-led policing," an approach that has gained steam since the terrorist attacks. It focuses on agencies gathering intelligence and sharing that information within their departments and with other local, state and federal agencies. It's part homeland security, but also a method of tracking and taking down organized crime.

For instance, one county might have two convenience store robberies. A bordering county might have had a rash of four. In intelligence-led policing, these agencies would share information to help catch the crook. The idea is that criminals don't respect or care about county or city lines and that law enforcement will catch more by working together.

"Instead of being reactive," Nocco said, "we are going to be proactive."

The plans for this, which Nocco calls a "philosophy shift," are in the beginning stages. Nocco didn't talk about specifics of exactly how much this will change the agency, as many deputies and detectives already do many of the aspects of intelligence-led policing. The descriptions of the model are jargon-filled and vary from agency to agency, but the basic foundation is sharing information and using analysts to map patterns to stop crimes before they happen.

Lt. Stephen Jones of the New Jersey State Police, a leader in intelligence- led policing, said his agency has used this method since 2005. An example he used is a string of gas station robberies. They predicted where the thief would hit next and what time, so they got there and waited.

"We're catching people red-handed," Jones said.

He said intelligence-led policing is "really the only way to get things done in an era when budgets are a concern. Essentially, you want to put your resources to work in the areas where they will be most effective."

Nocco said about 6 percent of offenders commit 60 percent of crimes. In this new model, deputies would keep close tabs on those people. Also, by tracking crime patterns, patrols can be targeted to where and when crimes are expected to occur.

If the most drunk drivers are on a certain street at a certain time of night, this theory says that's where most of the patrol deputies should go.

In Nocco's proposed $83.3 million budget — cut from last year's by $3 million — he asks for 23 new employees: 10 detectives, two sergeants, three intelligence analysts and eight health-care personnel for the jail.

The costs of the jobs are offset by the $4.4 million in retirement savings the agency is getting due to changes mandated by the state Legislature.

Nocco plans to have the intelligence analysts mapping crime patterns, feeding information to the front lines. He wants the detectives split into two squads, each commanded by one sergeant. He views these as his special operations units, the ones who will go after targeted criminals and "take them out," he said.

He said he wants his forces focused on fighting the prescription pill epidemic in Pasco.

It's "astronomical what it has done to our community," he said. Nocco said 72 percent of the children removed from homes in Pasco are done so because of prescription pill abuse by parents. The number of jail inmates needing a detox program because of prescription pills has doubled in the past two years, and reports of inmates attempting to smuggle pills inside the jail are common.

"To say it is destroying our families, our loved ones and our future is an understatement," Nocco said.

Intelligence-led policing originated in the United Kingdom in the mid 1990s and is still relatively new in the United States, said Dr. Ernie Scott, visiting professor of criminology at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Scott worked in law enforcement for 30 years and retired from the Orange County Sheriff's Office as chief of investigations.

"Because it's new, there's not a lot of solid research that says, 'This works,' " Scott said. But he said crime statistics are difficult because there are so many variables. And with intelligence-led policing, the main directive is to be proactive — to prevent crime before it occurs.

"It's pretty hard to measure what hasn't happened," Scott said.

Scott said Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor at Temple University and proponent of intelligence-led policing, had a good description of the philosophy.

Imagine this:

Cops are standing by a river and bodies are floating down it every day. The officers stay there, collecting the bodies, calling crime scene technicians, when they "should be going up the river and see who is throwing these bodies in," Scott said.

"It's stupidly simple but conceptually (Ratcliffe) is right," he said. "Rather than throwing all our time and efforts in investigating crimes after they've happened, we try and find out why they are happening."

Scott said some people do have concerns about officers gathering intelligence on people who haven't done anything wrong.

Law enforcement agencies are "trying to find a balance between security and liberty," he said.

The sheriff's offices in Hillsborough and Sarasota both use intelligence-led policing, and their counterparts in Pinellas and Hernando said they use aspects of the model. Hillsborough began using it in 2008, and authorities there said it's the reason why crime is down nearly 25 percent. They target the small percentage of offenders — less than 10 percent — who commit most of the crimes.

"What's always been the weakness in law enforcement is we get a lot of intelligence, but the hard part is how do you put it all together?" Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee said in a previous Times story. "How do you efficiently use that information? That's what we've been trying to do."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

New intelligence-led policing strategy strives to stop crime before it happens, not react after 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 12:45pm]

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