actionable intelligence

Intelligence-led policing

Intelligence-led policing (ILP) is a policing model that has emerged in recent years which is “built around risk assessment and risk management.” Although there is no universally accepted understanding of what intelligence-led policing entails, the leading definition is that ILP is “a strategic, future-oriented and targeted approach to crime control, focusing upon the identification, analysis and ‘management’ of persisting and developing ‘problems’ or ‘risks.’" In simpler terms, “it is a model of policing in which intelligence serves as a guide to operations, rather than the reverse.

Intelligence-led policing originated in Britain in the 1990s, and has gained considerable momentum globally following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. It is now advocated by the leading police associations in North America and the UK. Although claimed as a policing framework that builds on earlier paradigms, including community policing, problem-oriented policing, and continuous improvement or partnership models of policing, it originated as a rejection of the reactive, crime focus of community policing with calls for police to spend more time employing informants and surveillance to combat recidivist offenders. Recently, intelligence-led policing has undergone a 'revisionist' expansion to allow incorporation of reassurance and neighbourhood policing.

United Kingdom

Intelligence-led policing in the UK has been applied as a specialized police practice involving the identification and targeting of high-rate, chronic offenders and devising strategic interventions based on that intelligence. ILP originated as a problem-oriented strategy in the Kent and Northumbria Constabularies in combating motor vehicle theft and other property crime. Kent prioritized its calls for service, placing less priority on minor service calls and referring them to other agencies, which in turn provided police with more time to focus on the property crimes. Rather than reactively responding to individual incidents, a systematic analysis was conducted of offenses that identified a pattern showing that a small number of offenders were responsible for a disproportionately large number of motor vehicle thefts in the area. Also identified were repeat victims and problem areas. Using this knowledge to formulate a response, police could soon boast a significant drop in the automobile theft rate. Since 2000, ILP has been enshrined in Britain as the philosophy underpinning the National Intelligence Model.

United States

The post-9/11 environment in the US, the "era of Homeland Security" for American policing, has increased demands for law enforcement to build global partnerships and to work more closely with local agencies to expand the capacity of the state to fight both crime and terrorism. Given the belief that 9/11 and other terrorist attacks could have been prevented if not for intelligence failures, a key difference with intelligence-led policing from earlier strategies is that intelligence is no longer considered a specialized function for crime analysts or intelligence units. Investigations following bombings of the rail systems in Madrid and London and the arrest of suspected terrorists in Canada, Britain, and Florida suggested that intelligence culled from a variety of sources and through strengthened inter-agency cooperation may be the key to identifying suspects and successfully intervening to prevent attacks.

On March 16, 2005, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined a risk-based approach to homeland security threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences when he said, "Risk management must guide our decision-making as we examine how we can best organize to prevent, respond, and recover from an attack . . . . Our strategy is, in essence, to manage risk in terms of these three variables – threat, vulnerability, consequence. We seek to prioritize according to these variables, to fashion a series of preventive and protective steps that increase security at multiple levels.


In the Canadian context, the lineage of intelligence-led policing can be traced to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s failure to prevent the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182. Post-event analysis concluded that if the RCMP had a better relationship with the Sikh community in Vancouver, they may have acquired actionable intelligence alerting them to the plot by extremists looking to establish an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of India. This was an impetus for the adoption of community policing, but it was soon realized that the focus on “community” was a distraction in that hardened targets are not easily penetrated through better police-community relations; rather, it is the “mode of information that is important.” Consequently, the RCMP developed its CAPRA model (Clients, Analysis, Partnerships, Response, Assessment), which fits with, and has be re-cast as, intelligence-led policing.


Intelligence-led policing is still in its early stages and therefore lacks a universal conceptual framework that can be applied to disparate contexts as the new policing paradigm. Implementation can also be difficult, because it requires police managers to “have faith in the intelligence process and in the judgments and recommendations of their intelligence staff.” Some have also questioned whether the foundational ingredient – intelligence – has been properly considered, pointing out there is already “information overload” that police and security professionals have to contend with from the huge databanks that have been built up in the intelligence process, and that increasing raw data is not the same as generating “knowledge” or actionable intelligence. Finally, intelligence-led policing is part of the larger trend of blurring the distinction between national security and domestic policing, or the state’s military and police functions, and risks the same perils that have tarnished policing in the past, such as political interference, violating civil liberties, and a greater potential for the abuse of police power with the increased secrecy that intelligence work entails.


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