Photos by Detective Kevin Kline
It takes a good detective to think outside the box. There’s no turnkey solution to police work,” Detective Sergeant Patrick Ryder says. “Bad guys figure out what we’re doing and we have to constantly be a step ahead.”
RTI has grown tremendously since its humble beginnings, and now looks like something out of the show 24: displaying maps, crime data, pawn information, DWI stats, firearms, intelligence bulletins, gang databases and much more.
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Nassau County, located east of New York City and home to 1.3 million people, drives its policing by the numbers. But this isn’t a CompStat story. Sure, NassStat, the local version of CompStat, plays a role; however, the asset forfeiture and intelligence division of the 2,550-officer Nassau County Police Department focuses on numbers it believes it can change through intelligence-led policing.
At its headquarters in a former Massapequa, N.Y., public school, intel and asset forfeiture division commanding officer Detective Sergeant Patrick Ryder talks about the difference between building an ever-stronger case against a drug dealer vs. building one that’s strong enough, then rolling up buyers and dealers to drive down the numbers on a range of other crimes.
“Take down the heroin wire with 80 buyers and it may save you the 300 crimes they will commit to support their habit,” Ryder begins, in a Long Island accent right out of Central Casting. “You got junkies out there, doing larcenies, domestics, assaults, overdoses, DWIs where they’re running the wrong way on the parkway endangering lives. Take them down quickly, and all those numbers get reduced. Sure, we’ll chase the Kilo Fairy, that one crime number. It’s a bad crime.
“But it’s one crime.”
That kind of calculus is why the NCPD’s intelligence division’s work is regularly measured in whole percentage-point crime rate drops in the county, which consists of 17 villages and two cities. Police departments within the NCPD now run one of the nation’s most innovative and comprehensive local law enforcement intelligence operations. In turn, its combined asset forfeiture division provides funding to expand the intelligence operation.
The 287-square-mile county, which also has 167 square miles of water to patrol, had a banner year in 2010, in which crime was down 10 percent. It had a good 2011, when crime was further reduced by 5 percent. But the first half of 2012 has seen a spike in burglaries.
The intel read is that this spike is anomalous: In the first three months of 2011, much of the county was blanketed in snow, seriously suppressing the crime numbers—and when you look at the stats, 2011’s burglary numbers were half what they usually are. So while this year’s numbers are basically flat over 2010, when you view the burglary numbers from early 2011 to early 2012, burglaries doubled.
To the intel division, this was an opportunity for the unit to get aggressive. It guaranteed the commissioner that it would get these burglary numbers down below the 2011 rate—despite the anomalous dip. How will they do it? Through a fundamental reliance on intelligence-led policing.
Ryder isn’t without public relations acumen—he’s the most quotable guy around, and he wants more than anything for people to quote his numbers. Take the Kilo Fairy comparison for example. “A kilo off the streets? You can talk about that on the news for a day. Let me get you a 15 percent or even a 10 percent reduction in burglary numbers by catching 80 guys responsible for 300 crimes. You can talk about that with the media all year long.”
The NCPD Real Time Intelligence Center was established to share information among NYPD, Nassau and Suffolk counties as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Regional Intelligence Center (HIDTA-RIC). It began with two assigned detectives, working Monday through Friday. Soon the agency began realizing the strategic impact of intelligence.
Over the past three years, NCPD has used state grant funds, HIDTA funds and asset forfeiture money to expand to the current nine detectives, three civilian analysts, two clerical analysts and another detective sergeant at the NCPD Intel Center. Additionally, each of the NCPD’s eight precincts employs a civilian intelligence analyst. All reports, information and intel generated within the department—from reports of assisting civilians to arrests, intelligence, complaints, etc.—come from the precincts to the Intel Center.
Real Time Intelligence
Once the intelligence operation was up and running, it launched its crown jewel, the Real Time Intelligence (RTI) product. This is essentially an interactive TV channel onto which the NCPD broadcasts completed intelligence products 24 hours a day. The information is accessed by large touch-screen, flat-screen TVs that hang in every precinct in NCPD (and in some other agencies within the county, courtesy of seized assets), and is available via a secure connection right to the mobile data computers in each patrol car. Bad guys know it’s there because they see it in booking areas and holding cells.
Cops are great at collecting information; agencies are often not very good at leveraging it. NCPD uses cops on patrol to grab data as much as possible; RTI gives them the ability to better articulate the kinds of hunches that cops on patrol get, but which are traditionally so difficult to capture or leverage.
“Most agencies are collecting this information anyhow,” said Ryder. “It’s there somewhere in your department—whether it be the gang unit, the crimes against property squad, your detective division, your plainclothes, your cop on the street. Somebody knows something. By bringing them together and coordinating that information, you create phenomenal intel products that you’re able to use effectively and efficiently to drive the numbers down.”
Lacking funding to propel the vision, Ryder brought in college interns on their summer break to help design the basic look and feel and interactive components of the product. Within 30 days, they had built the first web-accessible version of his Real Time Intel Dashboard. To this day, Ryder looks to the kind of things he can do without spending money on custom technology from external vendors.
The focus on RTI is based on an understanding that the biggest problem in the intelligence cycle is dissemination of the finished product. NCPD ran an anonymous survey of 100 officers, showing them several types of intelligence products, including cop-shooting bulletins, and 95 percent of patrol officers said they hadn’t seen them. That ultimately led to the Real Time screens in the cruisers and at the precinct.
Another innovative twist: When a bulletin led to an arrest, the idea was to keep the bulletin on the system but to place the arrest notification in large letters across it (e.g., “Captured by Officer Selby and Sergeant Henderson.”) This direct acknowledgement of officer participation and accomplishment stepped up the interest of the patrol officers in the program and the real-time system. As Dale Stockton, Law Officer editor-in-chief, often says, “What gets recognized, gets repeated.”
The project began with HIDTA funding of about $100,000 per year, which was used to purchase technology and equipment. Ryder then went to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice, which added about $500,000 of grant money to create a facility that would coordinate intelligence for agencies throughout the state—outside New York City.
NCPD aggressively pursues every opportunity to remove assets from criminals—the funding NCPD receives from this asset forfeiture continues to fund things like bike patrol, new tactical vehicles, training, equipment and technology. Most of the rest of the intelligence division expansion was funded with about $1 million in asset forfeitures from financial crimes or money laundering, and asset forfeiture continues to support the intelligence operation.
That $1 million was spent over the last two years on technology, training and awareness programs. All overtime pay, training and equipment purchases have been paid for by asset forfeiture.
Leveraging the Data
NCPD uses crime mapping to reveal hotspots. They then overlay the residences of probationers and parolees. On the screen, a cop can drill down to the profiles—their photos, their descriptions, their records, the name and number for the parole officer, etc.—allowing patrol or detectives to have more context about them. On the
Real Time screen, these are easy to view together; cops can conduct dynamic analysis, leading to real-time insight.
Shootings, drug dealing and homicides were out of control in an area called the Corridor—an aread with some 200 Blood and 250 Crip members. RTI helps NCPD bring control over the gang members.
On the Real Time screen, an officer can drill down into an area and say, “Show me the Bloods or MS-13 gang members who live here,” see the representation and drill down further into specific profiles of those gang members—all using internal data coupled with inexpensive or free software, creating a powerful intelligence product.
Gangs are also mapped over crime reports. When, for example, there’s a shooting, the area of the shooting is overlaid with residences of known gang members along with information about the vehicles registered to, say, Crip and Blood members. A Crip-related shooting? Which Blood members live or are known to frequent nearby addresses? Are there any Blood vehicles in the area? Let’s put a pole camera and a license plate reader in the area and observe. The NCPD has used this intelligence capability to solve homicides that were in fact retribution killings between rival gang members.
The division’s most audacious goal of reducing burglaries below 2011 levels relies on the newly formed Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team (CIRRT). CIRRT is composed of six cops, six detectives and one sergeant, each of whom is taken out of patrol and rotated through a 60-day tour to avoid burnout. CIRRT works Tuesday through Friday, which NCPD has determined are the busiest crime days. The squad’s hours are adjusted based on, and in response to, the crime problems they’re experiencing either right now, or proactively anticipated issues based on historical data.
“We are driving the resources with the actionable daily intelligence,” Ryder said. “A cop car drives around for a 12-hour tour and is driven by the radio. We have no control over that. So we take 12 guys and drive them by intelligence: four hours in the burglary area. The MO says our burgs are over by 6 p.m.—so why would we keep our cops there after 6? So we send them to take a meal and move them to an area where we’ve seen or expect street robberies, and when that’s done, we move ’em to the gang area of concern.”
This seems to be working. Residential burglary arrests for the year to date are up 49 percent over the same period last year. With the success of CIRRT on burglary numbers, CIRRT is being refocused on another spiking number: grand larcenies.
“This is a business model,” Ryder says. “We drive our resources by intelligence and get the most bang for our buck.”
“Good cops want the program,” Ryder says. “It gets them out of their routine and into street clothes, doing enforcement.”
Some of NCPD’s best data these days comes from the combination of license plate recognition (LPR) and shot-location technology. As with all that the NCPD does, each piece supports and builds upon the strengths of the other.
With eight precincts in the county, NCPD dedicates one LPR vehicle to each. LPR cameras are also mounted on three covert vehicles, two highway units and six pole cameras situated throughout the county. To get the most from their equipment, intelligence determines where to place pole cameras and where to direct vehicle cameras
The department’s use of Shotspotter adds greatly to the intelligence capability. “ShotSpotter has been hugely successful since we installed it in July of 2009,” Ryder says. “In 2010 we had 377 detections. Because of the software we were able to recognize the problem was more than we thought. We took the data and drove our resources like LPR cameras, informants and plain clothes patrols into the area. In 2011, we were solving major cases, reducing crime and reduced shots fired to 77 in the area. The results were fantastic.”
NCPD continues to improve its capabilities by working closely with vendors. “We have been very aggressive in intelligence gathering,” Ryder says, “and found ways to manipulate the data. Every time we’ve come back to Elsag, our LPR vendor, with a problem, they’ve been able to redesign the software to meet our needs.”
With ShotSpotter, the department has “integrated additional hardware with the ShotSpotter software, video cameras that when the shot is detected the camera will turn to the shot, recording video evidence for us,” Ryder says. “We’re recording forensic evidence that we never had before.”