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.”