The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Marcel-Eugène LeBeuf

Marcel-Eugène LeBeuf Ph.D, is a civilian member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He can be reached at


Information and the sharing of information are essential for law enforcement. Information technology can enhance police efforts in coping with three new developments that are operating simultaneously in policing: 1) technology-based criminal activity that has none of the characteristics of traditional crime; 2) the advent of high-performance working tools that require new national infrastructures and specialized training for their use and, 3) stronger public articulation as to the role it wants the police to play.

We use the term “information technology” to describe a variety of more or less complex gadgets, machines and software each of which, as Nogala2 has observed, has its own specific development, use and impact. Information technology brings change to police work3 and, at the moment is quite evidently having an effect on the police culture. Police have been traditionally secretive and unwilling to share information, particularly the personnel of intelligence and investigative units.4 For decades this created numerous obstacles to the effectiveness of the intelligence function. Now that intelligence-led policing has become the dominant strategy in policing5, there is a new impetus to remove such obstacles, so that intelligence can be used to help determine tactical priorities, identify crime patterns, target criminal activities and set up crime prevention measures. 6

Information technology also sometimes becomes the main focus of attention7 because of its universal applicability and because it can provide not only the instrument to commit crime, but a tool to resolve crime. Computers can be the target of the offence (attacks on networks, for example), or the offence can be committed by means of computers. Computers are also used to trace crimes; what is called net surveillance or virtual patrol.8 Internet use in homes and other places rose in Canada from 19 per cent in January 1996 to 60 per cent in January 2000.9 A survey conducted in 2000 showed that approximately half (53.8 per cent) of all police departments in Canada had developed web sites. By 2003, the figure had increased to 84 per cent. The Internet is thus become a tool used by both citizens, organizations, criminals and the police. Because it is so omnipresent and influential, it needs to be treated differently from other technological tools available to the general public or to the law enforcement community. This is the view of Brenner who suggests that our traditional approach to enforcing the criminal law is eroding because of technology and that alternative approaches must be developed.10

In Canada, for example, the federal government has launched the Canada Public Safety Information Network, a major initiative for promoting and facilitating integrated information among police, customs and immigration officers, correctional officers, parole members, judges and crown attorneys.11 Information integration achieved by integrating technological tools is in itself a major challenge for a police agency, but particularly so for police agencies scattered across Canada. And compatibility between software and technology tools is just as much of a challenge.

These factors form the background to a survey carried out in the spring of 2003 to assess how much information is shared within the Canadian law enforcement community. The major findings and conclusions follow.


In 2000, a survey conducted in conjunction with the first ever Canadian conference on policing and technology helped to identify major issues related to the sharing of information in police departments and other law enforcement agencies.12 A second survey undertaken in 2003 was aimed at describing the evolution of the situation, and assessing the state of information technology and the sharing of information in the law enforcement community. More precisely the survey was designed to evaluate how law enforcement employees shared information with colleagues in their own organizations, and with others outside their organizations.

A two-part questionnaire containing 56 questions was designed. The first part focused on how and why law enforcement officers share information among themselves. The second part was a follow-up to the 2000 survey. The questionnaire was distributed to police departments across Canada, to many RCMP detachments and to other law enforcement agencies such as the Department of National Defence, the Organized Crime Agency of British Columbia, the CN Police, and ViaRail.13 It was expected that both managers and operational workers would respond. We received 242 responses from police departments, and only one from another law enforcement agency. Of the responses, 63 per cent were from managers and 37 per cent from operational workers.

Results of the survey

For the purposes of the survey, information was defined as material relating to law enforcement operations and management. Information sharing is complex and involves many human and technological issues that are sometimes linked to each other and at other times independent. This situation reflects the state of information technology, which is equally varied and in full expansion. In order to depict the current state of information sharing within and outside police organizations, we differentiated between interconnected and complementary questions. How do police officers share their information within and outside their organization? What influences the sharing of information? Why do they share information? What do they share?

1. How and how much is information shared within and outside organizations?
The methods for sharing information are different, depending on whether police officers share within or outside the organization. Generally, the preferred choice for sharing within an organization is by direct interpersonal contact or in-person exchanges (96 per cent), followed by e-mail (95 per cent) and telephone (83 per cent). One hundred per cent of federal police use e-mail for sharing information. In non-federal organizations, the telephone comes first (96 per cent), followed by fax (91 per cent) and regular mail (86 per cent). Sharing by giving access to the databanks of an organization is low with both internal and external contacts (35 per cent and 23 per cent respectively). With all modes of communication, most respondents indicated that they must first know the recipient before they share information. They commented that it was absolutely necessary to verify the recipient first, that a database required a “handshake” with the user to determine if accessibility was allowed, or that they preferred conveying information person when it was sensitive.

One possible technical way to share information is through the medium of record management systems (RMS). This allows police officers to collect as well as contribute information to a central databank. Overall, 59 per cent of police officers use RMS. Only 36 per cent of those using such systems report having the ability to query the RMS of other organizations. This suggests that of the total survey population, 18 per have a capability or willingness to query the databases other organizations.

The choice of communication method is influenced by the information shared, more so with outside organizations. There is a small percentage increase when police officers share with outside organizations, meaning that sharing could be seen less as an automatic process and more as an object of speculation for police officers. Apprehension is reflected by such questionnaire comments as: “The ability of [the] recipient to receive”, or “the number of recipients” or “A distinction must be made between [the] formal process requiring [a] paper trail and informal communication and the sensitivity of information”.

2. Frequency with which police officers share their information
Police officers most often share information with other police officers within their unit (99 per cent), and then with their own organization (98 per cent). The percentage drops to 71 per cent for sharing with outside organizations. There is a further slight decrease for sharing with individuals with different expertise (66 per cent), whether inside or outside and organization. There is a marked decrease when sharing with analysts (55 per cent) whether inside or outside the organization. The data also show that the percentage of those never sharing information with civilians working for the police can be as high as 10 per cent. Police officers therefore share information most with colleagues, police officers in their units and organization and least with analysts and civilians.

3. Factors influencing information sharing
The possibility of systems such as e-mail being insecure is not seen as an obstacle to the sharing of information. Overall, police officers show a high percentage of trust in electronic communication systems (87 per cent). They find current systems secure enough. A total of 75 per cent have access to encryption tools. Overall, trust in e-mail security drops at 60 per cent. The percentage is even lower for municipal police officers (54 per cent). Yet even though only slightly more than half of municipal police officers trust e-mail, they make frequent use of it (88 per cent). The data suggest that IT security is not in itself seen as an obstacle to the sharing of information, and that effectiveness is the most important factor.

Acquaintance and trust are important influences in the sharing of information. More information is shared when the recipient is known (70 per cent) and 67 per cent said they share only if they trust the recipient. This influence is illustrated by such comments as, “It feels better when I know the recipient”, or “With trust I know what the recipient will do with the information”, or “It depends if the person is a member or a civilian”.

The majority of police officers also said that having more and better equipment would not be an incentive for more information sharing (69 per cent). They stated that information technology has nothing to do with the amount of information shared; however, current infrastructures can limit the quantity of data that can be shared.

Rules and regulations as well as formal organizational positions are not perceived as obstacles to the sharing of information. Overall, 95 per cent of police officers said they take them into consideration when sharing information, but that they regard them as guidelines to be respected rather than obstacles preventing information sharing. A large percentage of respondents (68 per cent) shared information because they have the permission to share; however, data suggest that it is not so much a question of permission but rather effectiveness and mutual aid. Human will and/or human-based decisions seem to be the most important factors in what is shared.

4. Why information is shared
An objective of the survey was to evaluate why police officers share information: whether it is based on individual rationale or encouraged by a formal organizational process. In all, 95 per cent of police officers say they share to be more efficient. Effectiveness seems to be the most important issue to consider when sharing information. Effectiveness is characterized as “helping others to make informed decisions”; “Making sure others make better use of information”, and “Possibly saving time, effort and better efficiency on both parts, a win-win situation”. What is of lesser importance is sharing information only to maintain a good working relationship (23 per cent), or only when they receive a request (10 per cent). Some said that if they were not sharing, they were not doing their job, that they would never neglect their duty by not giving information when they should, that the holder of information often fails to recognize the value of it to others, and that where it is releasable, it should be available as much as possible for consultation by others who have a legal entitlement thereto. Sharing is characterized as a process of collecting information, managing it and, according to needs and priorities, releasing it. The foundation of the process does not stand on a one-way communication system or, in other words, on a passive position.

5. What information is shared
Generally, information sharing is left largely to individual police officers, instead of being determined by a formal process. This tendency is characteristic of police culture. Responses to requests for information are influenced by considerations of effectiveness, but all available information to satisfy a request is not necessarily provided. The survey showed that in deciding to provide information to a requester, the usefulness of the information was the major consideration for 58 per cent of the time. In requesting information, however, usefulness was a major consideration for only 26 per cent of the time, while the information available was useful only 16 per cent of the time. Therefore, it can be inferred that a request for information should be as precise and detailed as possible.

Implications and lessons learned

The survey illustrates the current situation regarding the sharing of information. It clearly shows that police officers do share information, so the issue is not one of compelling them to do so. The practice of keeping information in their computers for themselves, which is the modern equivalent of the earlier black notebook, now seems obsolete.

Information is at the heart of the criminal justice system. Many have observed that prior to September 11, 2001, there was ample information indicating that the attack on the Twin Towers might occur, but it was not shared or analyzed, so had no value in providing an early warning.14 This survey reflected the same dynamic but it is significant that information sharing between police officers and analysts is not very high (55 per cent) and, in the case of civilians, is very low. Indeed, 10 per cent of respondents indicated that they never shared information with civilians.

The first step towards producing a good police information product is for crime analysts to be able to access data, especially with the new strategy of intelligence-led policing. Intelligence-led policing cannot be successful, however, if analysts are denied access to information. Also, when information is shared through informal rather than formal channels, it often leaves no record for the information to be used by others or at a later date.

Differentiating between general information and intelligence is unnecessary. In fact, deciding what information to share could be an obstacle to work relationships, so developing classes of information that could be shared would serve no useful purpose. The priority should be on developing systems that connect to each other and to infrastructures that allow information sharing. The Automated Fingerprint Information System (AFIS) is a good example of an interconnected system.

Information sharing is influenced by the tools used to share within or outside organizations. Despite the importance of information technology for data sharing, the survey showed that what comes first and seems a priority is direct human interaction, either in person or by telephone. Human will, or human decision-making, seems the most important factor in sharing information.

Finally, the survey showed that the first three of the four obstacles to information sharing that LeBeuf identified as strategic, tactical, operational and cultural,15 are not regarded as major obstacles by police officers: they trust IT security, they respect rules and regulations, and they do not think that they need more equipment.

But relationships of trust among police officers still play a major role. When we look at the behaviour of individuals in determining whether or not to share information, and the reliance upon personal acquaintance with a recipient, it must be acknowledged that it is a sound, well-established police practice from the security point of view, but it can become a barrier to sharing sufficient information. These perceptions reflect essentially human interaction and human feelings. Because police officers learn at the academy and are encouraged in the field to build trusting relationships with colleagues and partners to ensure security, a culture based on knowing partners and colleagues is developed. If police officers and law enforcement agents continue to rely on getting to know each other before they start sharing information, this could remain a challenge for the future, particularly in a global context.

There is a temptation to say that information sharing is about integrated policing and not about information technology. If technology provides its own barriers to sharing, such as incompatible software, it also helps sharing on a large scale by connecting current systems. But as we have seen, few police officers can query the records management systems of other organizations. The challenge faced by the policing and law enforcement community is not so much information sharing per se, but on how much information sharing should be encouraged and exchanged on a regular basis, without relying on personal initiative or judgment.


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End Notes

1. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

2. Nogala, D., 1993, «Le rôle de la technologie dans la police de demain», Les Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure, 14, August-October: 137-158.

3. Sheptycki, J.W.E., 2002. In Search of Transnational Policing: Towards a Sociology of Global Policing. England: Ashgate .

4. M.E.LeBeuf, “Le renseignement criminel à l'ère de l’Internet : Pourquoi les enquêteurs ne le partagent-ils pas davantage ?” Les Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure, 2002, 47:209-229.

5. Intelligence-led policing is the prevailing decision-making strategy for crime prevention and crime reduction used by the RCMP and many other Canadian police agencies .

6. J.H.Ratcliffe, Intelligence-Led Policing. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, No. 24, 2003.

7. M.E LeBeuf, “Le renseignement criminel à l'ère de l’Internet : Pourquoi les enquêteurs ne le partagent-ils pas davantage ?” Les Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure, 47:209-229, 2002.

8. S. Sullivan, “Policing the Internet”, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 1999, www.fbi.govConsulted 0/04/12.

9. Ekos Research Associates Inc., The Public Opinion Environment and Emerging Trends in Public Security, Presentation to the RCMP Senior Executive Committee, Commanding Officers’ and Directors’ Planning POWPM. March 28. 2000.

10. Susan W. Brenner, “Toward a Criminal Law for Cyberspace: A New Model of Law Enforcement?” Proceedings, 2003. In Search of Security: An International Conference on Policing and Security. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. February, 2003.

11. Canada. Solicitor General, Integrated Justice Information, Integrated Justice Information Secretariat, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 2001.

12. M.E. LeBeuf, ed., Police and Information Technology: Understanding, Sharing and Succeeding, May 28-30, 2000. Conference Proceedings. Ottawa: 2000, Canadian Police College (CD-ROM.).

13. Policing in Canada is the responsibility of three levels of government: federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, there were 392 police departments in Canada in 2002 (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2002).

14. J. Kelley and D. Abrials, “Overcoming Information Sharing Obstacles and Complexity”, The Police Chief, November: 24-28, 2003.

15. M.E. LeBeuf, “Le renseignement criminel à l'ère de l’Internet : Pourquoi les enquêteurs ne le partagent-ils pas davantage ?”, Les Cahiers de la sécurité intérieure, 47:209-229, 2002.