We’ve seen a lot of information recently on the rise of data-led and information-led policing. The idea behind intelligence-led policing is that it allows police departments to utilize data and information to evaluate crime trends and issues better, thus allowing top decision-makers to efficiently and effectively allocate resources and develop crime-fighting strategies. These stories and reports usually involve networked CCTV cameras, remote drones, web crawlers, data miners, or information databases.
With so much focus on new technology, it can be easy to lose sight of the role people can play in law enforcement. Humans can be an invaluable source of information, as they can often provide background and context that technological sources can’t. With that in mind, here are six human sources that can provide crucial information for investigating local crimes.
The idea behind community policing initiatives is to bring the local officers and residents closer to understand better what’s going on in the neighborhood, as no one will ever know the local area better than the people who live there. Every community has someone who seemingly knows everything that happens on the street, day or night. That person can be a valuable resource for any information concerning the neighborhood.
Former Crime Victims
In addition to residents, another potential source of information is former victims. Frequently, victims can be hesitant to provide information shortly after their incident for many different reasons. However, after some time has passed, they can be more willing to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement and can also be more inclined to help others avoid falling prey to the same crimes. For this reason, it can be worth reaching out to former victims of similar situations in the same area and associates and ex-spouses of known offenders.
Generally, delivery drivers, bus drivers, cab drivers, and ride-share drivers frequently travel up and down the same route regularly. They know the neighborhood exceptionally well, but many work unusual hours. If you’re investigating a crime in a specific area, give local delivery drivers your number and encourage them to call you when they see something that strikes them as unusual? Cab and ride-share drivers sometimes also overhear conversations and observe behaviors that could be the lead you need.
Grocery and other store workers are often highly aware of anything going on in the community. They can be great at noticing if specific customers are acting in a strange way or out of character. In particular, it’s worth talking to the employees of any shops selling products used to manufacture illicit drugs and explosives. Many departments across the country use the Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program (BMAP) to inform and instruct employees and community members about explosive precursor chemicals. BMAP conducts outreach, training, and awareness with the private and public sector stakeholders, which increases awareness of those everyday products that terrorists, criminals, and others can use to make a bomb or other dangerous explosive mixtures or devices.
Even though we need extreme caution when developing a rapport with them, another group of people out in the neighborhood at unconventional hours are sex workers. Sex workers are sometimes involved or work adjacent to the drug trade and close to criminal networks.
Room cleaners, custodians, and maintenance workers in the hospitality industry are another excellent source of information. Unlike law enforcement, they can quickly enter criminals’ apartments and hotel rooms with consent every day. Of course, it would be illegal to ask these workers to gather intelligence, as this would be circumventing a search warrant. However, it is lawful to teach them to recognize tools, techniques, and procedures related to criminal activity. Once armed with the knowledge you provide, maintenance workers can identify suspicious activity and may independently offer tips that could lead to an arrest.
The Human Element
Simply put, information-gathering tools are becoming more sophisticated every year. However, no technology will ever replace the human connections that police officers can make. Having the knowledge and trust of the people in your jurisdiction can be the most influential information tool in any department’s arsenal.