Skip to main content

Policing - Police Information and Intelligence Systems


Part 4 of the Policing sector of the Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit, produced by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime in close co-operaiton with the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat.


The concept of “criminal intelligence” is neither easy to explain nor to translate. A direct translation can have negative political and historical associations in some parts of the world that make the word inappropriate in may international settings. As a result, it is often easier instead to use the word “information” and, indeed, the terms “information” and “intelligence” are often used interchangeably.

Definitions of what constitutes intelligence differ. Some say intelligence is “information designed for action”, some say that it is “assessed information”. Some say that information is transformed into intelligence through the analytical process, whilst it has also been called, “information which is significant, or potentially significant, for an enquiry or a potential enquiry”. The common theme is that intelligence is a special type of information with additional value that can be recognised or assigned through some kind of analytical process. “Criminal intelligence” is simply any information with additional value that can be used by law enforcement to deal with crime.

Acknowledgement should also be made of the current debate within the law enforcement analyst community as to whether their work actually has anything to do with intelligence at all. Some say that crime analysis is not an “intelligence” function, other say it is fundamental to it. For the purposes of this document, no distinction is made. Whatever they term is preferred, crime analysts and criminal intelligence analysts fulfil the same role and perform it in the same way.

As a law enforcement strategy, criminal intelligence has been in existence for many years. Indeed, although it has only recently been formalised, many of the basic (and intuitive approaches of the traditional investigator are the same. For instance, officers have always attempted to identify the common thread that links clues in a case together, or kept a mental note of the habits of prominent criminals, or cultivated special relationships with people in the criminal underworld who provide inside information. This has always been simply considered to be good police work. Consequently, even in countries where the term “criminal intelligence” has not been formally adopted, it should be possible to find key components of a criminal intelligence system, such as the gathering of information about criminals, storage of fingerprints and/or DNA and use of covert investigation techniques, including informants.