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How Ohio Enhanced its Public Safety Services with a Reduced Budget

Ohio is integrating all components of public safety intelligence into all disciplines for a safer state.

In the world of decreasing budgets, Ohio has found a way to dramatically improve our public safety services through an investment in intelligence analysts while integrating existing resources in law enforcement, emergency management, homeland security and public safety. While many states have intelligence centers and some have 24-hour operations, Ohio merged its Emergency Management Agency (EMA) analysts, criminal intelligence analysts, homeland security analysts, school safety and threat analysts into one public safety mission.

The potential of integrated intelligence in public safety has never been more promising. By employing methods focused on communication, intelligence gathering and analysis, agencies devoted to public safety can make quicker, more informed and efficient decisions to help analysts save lives.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) has adopted integrated intelligence into its daily functions with the Critical Information and Communications Center, known as the Hub, supervised by Ohio State Highway Patrol (OHSP) commanders in Columbus. It incorporates all components of public safety intelligence — intelligence support, strategic intelligence and analytical intelligence — while also integrating the law enforcement, homeland security and emergency management disciplines of public safety. Ohio has benefited immensely from this integration since the Hub’s creation in 2011, and agencies that follow suit will be at the head of public safety's future.

In September 2012, an officer investigating an act of arson at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg Township, Ohio, shared surveillance video of the suspect and photos of the suspect’s vehicle with the Hub. Through the work of intelligence analysts and communications staff, the tip was quickly transformed into intelligence that led to the suspect’s arrest.

An analyst created a bulletin and disseminated it to other agencies and partners, one of which received a tip — a name of a man possibly from Indiana. That tip was sent back to the Criminal Intelligence Unit, under the Hub.

Searching through various databases, the analyst discovered the man was from Indiana, where he worked as a truck driver. She also found his wife and called her. The wife hadn’t heard from her husband in a couple of days, but she said he was off his medication and she was worried about his capabilities.

This launched a full-scale investigation. Analysts determined the location of the suspect’s employer and identified his truck’s location when he crossed back into Indiana. Police deployed to his trucking station, and upon his arrival, arrested him on the spot. A search of the suspect’s vehicle yielded an assault rifle, more guns and arson materials.

The work of intelligence analysts informed law enforcement officers in the field, who focused their efforts where they’d be most effective — resulting in not just the apprehension of a criminal, but also the prevention of more crimes.

The Hub

At ODPS, integrated intelligence is applied to public safety at the Hub, a round-the-clock operation consisting of the Highway Patrol’s watch desk, Criminal Intelligence Unit and statewide dispatch center. The Hub offers constant communication between analysts with data at their fingertips and the officers and other end users who need it to help determine the best course of action in a given scenario.

The Hub was designed to replace a slow system of command and control. Instead of using a pyramidal approach to communication demanding information be passed up a chain of command before decisions can be made, it uses a shape like the hub of a tire; The communication center sits in the middle and anyone requesting information can contact it directly.

Analysts manage and share information proven to be relevant, reliable and actionable with law enforcement, homeland security and emergency management units within ODPS to support operational duties. After those units close for the day, their phone lines direct to the Hub, meaning many facets of public safety have coverage at all hours.

The Hub is unique because it provides a centralized point of contact to collect and disseminate critical information and expedite the deployment of assets during a critical incident, and its services are offered at no charge.

Integrated Intelligence

When ODPS first applied integrated intelligence to public safety through the Hub, the goal was enhanced drug interdiction efforts. That endeavor has been successful. Using information provided by the Hub, OSHP succeeded in identifying drug trafficking routes and knocking them off course.

The Hub’s functions evolved after OSHP’s achievements. Integrated intelligence has been used in Ohio to fight human trafficking, enhance the efforts of emergency management analysts and improve school and workplace safety, as well as assisting law enforcement all over the state.

Integrated intelligence separates into three categories: intelligence support, strategic intelligence and analytical intelligence.

Intelligence support backs up the front-line forces. It’s the logic behind the broken windows theory and CompStat; When intelligence supports on-the-ground functions, crime rates fall. Gathering information and processing it into intelligence allows law enforcement to understand who, what, where and when, helping them better determine effective asset deployment.

Analysts at the Hub receive information from the public through calls to Ohio’s #677 tip line, as well as from Facebook and a public email account. The Hub takes the information, changes it into a usable format and sends resources to appropriate locations.

This intelligence-led policing technique is nothing new. Information gathering helps reduce crime by allowing officers to act preventively, rather than reactively. Law enforcement can come to understand the motivations and methods of the individuals who commit criminal acts and deploy resources accordingly.

Strategic intelligence is the process of connecting dots and finding patterns. The Hub primarily assists three ODPS divisions — Highway Patrol, Emergency Management and Homeland Security — in putting information into useful formats, so further steps can be as informed as possible. The Strategic Analysis and Information Center (SAIC), a fusion center within OHS, is vital to strategic intelligence in Ohio. SAIC and the Hub are separate operations, but they work together and the Hub receives SAIC’s calls after hours.

OHS has made use of information sharing through the SAIC since 2005 in an effort to investigate terrorism and support the national intelligence community. The SAIC is one of 78 centers in the National Fusion Center Network, created through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice and Office of National Intelligence, and is designated by the governor as Ohio’s primary fusion center.

OHS is made up of 17 sectors, interconnected by the SAIC to share information and work together.

OHS also produced the Safer School Initiative, accomplished by the Threat Assessment and Prevention Unit for the 2014-2015 school year. It brings together several disciplines within the fusion center, analytical and threat assessment processes, plus partnerships with both the private and public sectors. The goal is to create a circle of protection for students and faculty and serve as a resource for law enforcement, local schools and the Ohio Department of Education.

The unit receives information from a 24-hour tip line used to report threats that could jeopardize school or workplace safety. Sometimes the proper response might be to contact law enforcement; conversely, letting the school or parents know of the problem may be best. Either way, the round-the-clock nature of the unit gets information to the right place — and quickly — to prevent as much violence as possible.

Analytical intelligence is the byproduct of strategic intelligence. Analysts create a product with the intelligence produced, which can be strategic, conveying anticipatory information, or tactical, recommending how to reduce the possibility of violence and crime when proceeding. The product is a written communication, often called a “bulletin,” conveying the analytical outcome that was reached.

EMA has benefited from the Hub’s products, for both the near and future term. A near-term product might focus on a storm system brewing in Colorado that will likely impact Ohio in a week. Future-term reports are more predictive in nature; an analytical product can be developed to look ahead at something like propane supply for the upcoming winter to help determine if counties might run short.

The Hub can provide specific information during an event that helps construct a product of either kind. Oftentimes, when liaisons or safety teams deploy across the state to help out in a crisis, they have to get moving before they have a full assessment of what’s occurred. With the Hub, information can be pulled together while the team is in transit and sent to them electronically or directly to the location where they’re headed.

Analysts at the Hub have specialties in homeland security, criminal intelligence or emergency management, but are cross trained so all personnel can handle large-scale events. By the time personnel arrive at an incident, there’s enough information for the team to be briefed.

Other divisions utilize strategic or tactical products written by the Hub to aid in deploying resources more efficiently.

The Future

Police chiefs or superintendents interested in creating a center like the Hub are taking steps to make our country safer. Breaking the bank isn’t necessary. In Ohio it was done during an $11 million budget reduction by repurposing positions and moving officers from general headquarters into roles in the field.

At the start, there was just a concept, not a specific way operations had to look. Nobody was sure whether troopers or police officers on traffic stops or the EMA would really use the resources, so it was built small. To everyone’s surprise, demand for Hub resources quickly outpaced the services it could provide. From 2011 to 2012, requests for the Hub’s services grew by 208 percent. Two analysts were hired initially. In 2014, there were 25.

The potential of integrated intelligence in public safety is limitless. Ohio’s Hub has already expanded greatly, from a center for communications to an effective intelligence operation. From catching traffickers to arsonists to petty criminals, there’s no question that coordinated efforts yield better results.

Through the application of integrated intelligence, public safety efforts in the U.S. will be smarter, faster and more effective with an approach that includes all components of integrated intelligence into all disciplines of public safety, ultimately leading to lives saved. The effectiveness of each boot on the ground can multiply significantly, and the effectiveness of assets already existing will increase dramatically.

John Born is the director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

This story was originally published by Emergency Management