“You want all criminals behind bars. But sometimes you have to go a longer route so you don’t violate human rights”
Some years ago in central Sweden, a horse owner reported to the police that thieves had broken into his barn and stolen some expensive saddles. Then another owner reported the same thing. Slowly, but surely, it became clear that these weren’t isolated incidents, but part of a pattern. Johan Ekstam, head of a local Intelligence Led Policing section set to work trying to identify if there were any traits these crimes had in common.
“We understood that this was a gang who were specialised in stealing saddles. And we tried to establish a pattern. We identified where the thefts took place and at what time it was most likely and also looked at what kind of traffic was in the area. We were particularly interested to see what kind of traffic operated at night. The community policing team, whose job it is to maintain close links with the community were able to provide advice on movements, especially from nearby petrol stations. We decided to set up some patrols at night, on days like Monday and Tuesday which were days when we believed this gang operated. And then, one night a patrol received a tip off from a local farmer, which was in line with information from a neighbouring district and the customs authority. We caught the gang”.
Ekstam is now deployed at EUPOL COPPS as a Senior Police Adviser on Intelligence Led Policing. He brings to Ramallah his long experience in gathering pieces of information to build up a picture of criminality that will lead to criminals being brought to justice. “Information and intelligence are key factors in creating a competitive advantage, in law enforcement like in business. Information, knowledge and intelligence increases the effectiveness of the police in dealing with crime”.
“Intelligence Led Policing contributes to optimising police work,” the adviser from central Sweden continues. “It should flow through the whole organisation – ideally, police officers see things and then feed it to analysts who can make links and identify what the problems are and then flag it to management, who can make a plan for operational action. Especially when you have limited resources, it’s important to have clever thinking. It also allows for a more proactive approach to fighting crime”.
Ekstam underlines however that intelligence gathering needs to be done in a way that respects the human rights of citizens. “You need an appropriate framework that complies with international human rights standards and data protection. There should be laws that take care of what you can enter in your intelligence gathering system and what you can’t. Employees who are working with intelligence must know what they are allowed to do and what they are not to. They must know data protection law by heart. Everyone has the right to a private life”.
He also makes clear that there should be an external body with the authorisation to check how data is being used. “This is one thing we have discussed at length with our counterparts in the Palestinian Civil Police. There needs to be control over what information is gathered and protection so that no-one is harassed on the basis of their political or religious beliefs or because, for example, they are a woman. You want to be effective and put all criminals behind bars, but sometimes you have to go a longer route so you don’t violate human rights”.
“Also, one of our most important things is protecting sources,” the Swedish police officer continues. “If it’s obvious to criminals who the source of information is, then the source will be targeted. You have to used the information as wisely as you can. It’s very sensitive”.
The EUPOL COPPS advisers working on Intelligence Led Policing are supporting the Palestinian Civil Police to build capacity in this area. An important part is developing a training curriculum so that the different levels of the police organisation have the right skills to implement an Intelligence Led Policing approach. Within the curriculum, different training needs are identified for officers at management level or for officers in the field.
A road map has also been drawn up to develop practical courses that will help to implement the overall vision outlined in the curriculum.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the ability of advisers to meet their counterparts, but Ekstam feels like progress is being made. “Last year, it sometimes felt like we were scratching at the surface of what needed to be done, but now we’re definitely moving forward”.