Television often depicts solving crime as a simple process of collecting clues, entering information in a computer, and arresting the bad guy. Unfortunately, real cops know most of those TV databases are fiction and law enforcement does not always have access to the data, the intelligence or the computer needed in a timely manner. The result is often that information that could lead to critical clues remains stranded in isolated computers or siloed networks, unable to prevent and/or uncover crimes until after they have occurred.
In the days that followed, British investigators discovered numerous clues and indicators that could have averted the attacks. (AP Photo/Sergio Dionisio)
Clearly, no lives are saved by uncovering clues to a terrorist plot after the event or solving a murder after the killing. This fact is being witnessed with our country’s increase in violent crime, especially homicides, and around the world, by this new age of international threats and terrorism. Consider the 2005 London subway bombings: In the days that followed, British investigators discovered numerous clues and indicators that could have averted the attacks — if the information had been gathered, compiled, analyzed and disseminated to the appropriate authorities in an efficient, timely, justifiable and systematic manner.
U.S. officials have encountered the same sobering truth when investigating the events of Sept. 11. The information void on the terrorist attacks hampered the harrowing work of local law enforcement and other first responders. The attacks underscored the importance of arming the nation’s first responders with the real-time, accurate information needed to make potentially life-saving decisions. Yet even with all of today’s technology, getting the right information to the right people at the right time still proves daunting and unreliable at best.
There is a new tool available to street cops in almost every state. It is a hidden gem, ready to be found and utilized to help you solve crime. This tool is commonly referred to as a Fusion Center.
While most conventional wisdom holds that these centers are to prevent terrorism, this is not their primary role. Fusion Centers are in place to get information to the people who need it, when they need it. Whether it's accessing homeland security information to stop a terrorist attack, identifying trends in burglaries so a department can adequately disperse resources or assisting a detective or patrol officer looking for deeper information to uncover clues in an investigation – Fusion Centers are resources that can help.
What is a Fusion Center?
A Fusion Center is a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise and information to the center with the goal of maximizing their ability to detect, prevent, investigate and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. Intelligence processes — through which information is collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed and disseminated — are a primary focus. Data fusion involves the exchange of information from different sources — including law enforcement, public safety and the private sector. Relevant and actionable intelligence results from analysis and data fusion. The fusion process helps agencies be proactive and protect communities.
National support for Fusion Centers
In 2006, the president approved the establishment of a national integrated network of state and major urban area Fusion Centers. You can see the report here. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have begun deploying personnel to work within the Fusion Centers.
Recognizing the critical importance of information sharing, nearly all 50 states have created Fusion Centers, and now several major cities and counties are creating them too. Therefore, no matter where you work, you should be able to find a center that can lend you a hand.
Fusion Center guidelines
The Fusion Center guidelines were developed to ensure that Fusion Centers are established and operated consistently, resulting in enhanced coordination, strengthened partnerships and improved crime-fighting and anti-terrorism capabilities.
The 18 guidelines and their key elements — as well as additional resources, model policies and implementation tools — are included in this publication from the U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security. It is available here.
Role of Fusion Centers
State and regional Fusion Centers enable local, state and tribal governments to gather, process, analyze and share information and intelligence relating to all crimes and hazards. Fusion Centers communicate, cooperate and coordinate with each other and with the federal government. These centers:
Contribute information to ongoing federal and national-level terrorist risk assessments and complete statewide, regional or site-specific and topical risk assessments
Disseminate federally generated alerts, warnings and notifications regarding time-sensitive threats, situational awareness reports and analytical products
Gather, process, analyze and disseminate locally generated information, such as suspicious activity reports
Produce or interpret intelligence products relevant to stakeholders
Protect civil liberties and privacy interests of American citizens throughout the intelligence process
Even with this very exciting progress, much remains to be done. Each new advance in technology leads to new opportunities to protect our citizens, solve crimes, and lock away the criminals. Many local Fusion Centers have had a difficult time getting the word out, but they are there and chances are they would be happy to help. Do not wait for them to come to you, seek them out.
About the author Ken Bouche is the former Chief Information Officer for the Illinois State Police. While serving in that capacity, he served on the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global), an advisory committee to the U.S. Attorney General on justice information sharing and integration initiatives. Prior to his appointment as CIO he held operational positions from Trooper to Lieutenant to Colonel. He currently leads the worldwide implementation of Trace, the world’s leading global comprehensive and searchable database of stolen, lost, and seized property. Ken has a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern Illinois University.