Tuesday, April 15, 2008

LAPD Adopts New "Suspicious Activity" Codes

It's a step in the right direction, but I continue to be amazed at how long it takes to implement this kind of thing.

The Los Angeles Police Department has launched a new reporting system aimed to help connect dots that could uncover local terror plots...

During the course of police officer's day, the officer could run across suspicious packages, people taking pictures of bridges or a car that looks out of place parked in front of a water tower.

Now LAPD officers - from traffic cops to detectives - are able to report suspicious activity on their investigative reports, which will later be catalogued by intelligence officers.
What's been lacking for so many years, of course, is the intelligence function. In the past, nobody would have been able to do anything with the information, because there were no intelligence analysts.

If we had truly cross-functional and cross-jurisdictional information sharing, then this wouldn't have been an obstacle. But we didn't/haven't, so there wouldn't have been much of a point in collecting data that couldn't be analyzed. Now, of course, LA has a fusion center with a team of analysts. (I presume that's who's looking at the local data.) So they're collecting it:
Since the September 11 attacks, more local police agencies have been training officers to look for certain indicators of terrorist activity. Some fire departments have also provided this type of training.

But the LAPD's program is the first of its kind to incorporate these reports into a standard system that is used everyday, said John Cohen, senior adviser to the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment.

The LAPD gave each suspicious activity a specific code. There are about 65 codes for activities ranging from surveillance to trespassing at sensitive places, said Joan McNamara, the LAPD commander who developed the system.
It's important, of course, to be forthright about your collection and analysis processes, so that you don't risk the perception of violating civil liberties. That becomes especially important when you start sharing information, which LA is doing in a novel way:
Police departments in Boston, Chicago and Miami-Dade, Fla., are meeting with LAPD officials to learn more about the system, said Michael Ronczkowski, a major in the Miami-Dade Police Department's homeland security bureau.

Ronczkowski said if his officers [in Miami] have seen a certain suspicious activity consistently for a few months, the standard reporting system allows him to call LAPD and tell them about "suspicious activity" code 67, for example. When he does this, LAPD will know exactly what he is referring to and can tell him if their officers have seen the same thing.
I like the direct local-to-local sharing, but DHS really ought to be in on it as well. Cross-jurisdictional sharing should move up the chain as well as down. Still, I thought the LAPD chief said it best:
"Homeland security is really hometown security," Los Angeles police chief William Bratton said during an interview Friday.
I wonder if I can get credit for that ... ?

Update 2008-04-18: Establishing a system for Suspicious Activity Reporting is part of the National Strategy for Information Sharing, which charges fusion centers to:
Ensure that all locally generated terrorism-related information, including suspicious activity and incident reports, is communicated to the Federal Government and other States, localities, and regions, through the appropriate mechanism and systems. Locally generated information that does not appear to be threat or incident related will be gathered, processed, analyzed, and interpreted by the same State and major urban area fusion centers in coordination with locally-based Federal officials. The same information will be disseminated to the national level via appropriate Federal agencies.

No comments: