Suspicious Activity Reporting

Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR), formerly known as “Tips and Leads,” has drawn the attention of large police agencies across the country because of its ability to capture, categorize and catalogue important data for analysis of specific patterns of criminal activity—as it occurs and during its planning stages.

About 18 months ago, officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Los Angeles Police Department and several other large police agencies convened a working group called SAR Support and Implementation Project. This group spearheaded an initiative to explore how best to standardize and share Tips and Leads data and to further utilize existing information in their Record Management Systems (RMS). These systems, which record the activity of police interacting with thousands of citizens each day, can provide very useful information to specialized law enforcement units.

Determining when non-suspect activity becomes suspect activity can be difficult to ascertain. Many tourists in big cities take photos of infrastructure (e.g., buildings, roads, tunnels, bridges). They’re not necessarily breaking the law. Usually, no crime is being committed. How do you determine those who are doing this as pre-operational surveillance vs. those who are interested in great shots for their family photo albums? It’s not easy. But officers detailing these observations, coupled with other data that are then examined by trained analysts, can lead to developing reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

In the pre-SAR days, these types of Tips and Leads would get lost in the incident reports found in RMS or Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems. But now with computerized SAR systems and trained analysts, the information is being shared and vetted by trained personnel.

As a result of the SAR Project, LAPD and others have added check-off boxes to their reporting systems, enabling street level officers to “code in” certain observations or citizen complaints that don’t quite add up or are more than what they appear on the surface.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) also has been formed. The ISE hopes to become a national network of interconnected computer systems, where SAR information can reside in repositories, allowing law enforcement agencies across jurisdictional boundaries to share and query SAR under a national standard and framework.

The rightly coded SAR in the hands of properly trained staff can best prevent important information from falling through the cracks. The resulting analysis can go a long way toward preventing the next terrorist plot or bank robbery.

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