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Europol’s Crime Analysis System—Practical

Determinants of Its Success
Tomasz Safjański and Adrian James

Abstract Threats to modern nation states from organized crime and terrorism create environments in which
intelligence becomes a vital component of policing and security plans but the increasing use of personal data for
law enforcement purposes can alter the normative relationships between stakeholders and law enforcement agencies
and between agencies and citizens. For that reason, police intelligence practice demands critical examination. This
paper presents a narrative inquiry, based on the authors’ experiential knowledge and empirical research, into Europol’s
Crime Analysis System (ECAS). The study explains Europol’s efforts to develop data collection and analysis systems
that meet the needs of EU Member States (MS). Through ECAS, it has created powerful tools intended to deliver
intelligence products that help MS identify, localize, and neutralize transnational threats to a degree not witnessed
before in Europe. Nevertheless, Europol’s performance in this context seems sub-optimal. Shortcomings largely are
attributed to a lack of trust between Europol and MS leading to failures to share information between themselves and
with the institution. The result is that the latter’s strategic intelligence products sometimes are deficient or incomplete.
That should be of concern to stakeholders because Europol’s strategic intelligence efforts may be rendered ineffective.
Shortcomings in Europol’s intelligence products also are significant for citizens because they may mean that the
information-sharing process is less transparent and less accountable than citizens have a right to expect.

Introduction security agencies. Today, the nature and scale of

This paper presents a case study of the development that threat have stimulated the creation of trans-
of the crime intelligence system of the European national criminal intelligence-sharing structures
Police Office, Europol. In modernity, threats to and processes.
nation states from organized crime and terrorism We use this case to critically assess information
create environments in which policymakers turn sharing between law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
more readily to information-based instruments of Our analysis is founded on narrative inquiry and
control. Traditionally, the collection, analysis, and experiential knowledge. It also draws upon empir-
evaluation of crime intelligence have been tasks ical research into police intelligence practice con-
undertaken by nation states’ law enforcement and ducted by the first author (James, 2016 and 2017)

Teacher, Department of Law, University of Law and Public Administration, Rzeszów–Przemyśl, Przemyśl, Poland

Reader in Police Studies, Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool,
UK. E-mail:

Policing, pp. 1–10

ß The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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2 Policing Article Europol’s crime analysis system

and by the second author and others (James et al., and formal node of crime intelligence practice in the
2017). Increasingly, it is understood that informa- fight against cross-border threats. Europol styles
tion management is a vital component of policing itself as a support centre for law enforcement oper-
and security plans. Intelligence has become a basic ations, a hub for criminal information, and a centre
police tool for crime-fighting and for the mainten- for law enforcement expertise. About 20% of its staff
ance of security (den Boer, 2002; Tilley, 2016). That are liaison officers seconded from Member States
has significant implications for LEAs, their stake- (MS) (Europol, 2018).
holders, and those under agencies’ protection. It is Europol’s mission is to support and strengthen
important in the context of the legality and effect- actions taken by EU MS’ LEAs. It supports MS’
iveness of state institutions’ intelligence practices, mutual cooperation to prevent and combat serious
citizens’ freedoms, and fundamental human rights crime affecting two or more of their number. It also
because the former have the potential to threaten sustains activities to combat terrorism and other
the latter to a greater extent than almost any other forms of crime affecting MS’ interests (as set out
aspect of public policing. in EU policy). With more than 1,000 staff, Europol
Europol’s crime analysis system (ECAS) may provides multilingual and multinational crime in-
provide a useful template for the future develop- telligence expertise from its headquarters in The
ment of international and transnational networked Hague to LEAs across the EU and in its partner
systems. Europol claims that such a system can countries. It supports more than 40,000 complex
allow LEAs to respond lawfully and effectively to transnational organized crime and terrorism cases
the increasing dangerousness of the social world, to every year (Europol, 2018).
maintain their legitimacy and to demonstrate their
commitment to the protection of citizens’ rights
and fundamental freedoms (Europol, 2018). Yet, Europol’s powers and
no matter how well they have been designed, competences
these developments also signal the limits of struc-
Europol does not have autonomous investigative cap-
tures and processes in this context. The paper
abilities and never directs operational activities (which
argues that no intelligence system can function ef-
always are solely the responsibility of EU MS).
fectively without trust, which nurtures connections
Europol’s representatives do not have the normative
and nodes so that relationships between individuals
rights of crime intelligence services. For example, the
and organizations are durable and productive.
lawful power to intercept telecommunications, cov-
ertly observe persons or places, or to manage in-
formers is the preserve of the competent national
Europol’s origins and structure authorities. However, Europol can make tangible con-
Representing one of the first attempts to create an tributions to law enforcement cooperation within the
international policing organization capable of coun- EU by: proposing common strategic frameworks (e.g.
tering transnational offending, Europol was estab- the European Agenda on Security 2015–20); improv-
lished by Article K1 of the Treaty of Maastricht ing information exchange [e.g. by managing databases
(Treaty on European Union, signed 7 February such as the Schengen Information System (IS)]; pro-
1992; entered into force 1 November 1993). In moting operational cooperation; cooperating on spe-
1998, the Europol Convention was ratified and it cific operations; and by funding training, research,
entered into force in October of the same year. The and innovation in MS (Europol, 2018).
institution officially began operations on 1 July 1999. Europol’s crime intelligence competences have
Today, it represents the EU’s most comprehensive their basis in EU treaties and in international law.

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T. Safjański and A. James Article Policing 3

The institution’s forms and methods of analysis, teams; providing information and analytical sup-
interpretation, and exchange of crime information port to MS in connection with major international
are consistent with the already well-established events; preparing threat assessments, strategic and
practices of international policing. Europol under- operational analyses, and general situation reports;
takes intelligence-gathering activities but the appli- and developing, sharing, and promoting specialist
cation of coercive measures is the exclusive knowledge of crime prevention methods, investiga-
responsibility of the competent national authori- tive procedures, and technical and forensic meth-
ties. Operational actions invariably are carried out ods. It provides advice to EU MS; operational,
according to the statutes and regulations, and—not technical, and financial support; and specialized
least—the wishes, of the MS concerned (Europol, training or assistance to MS in organizing training
2018). in coordination with the European Union Agency
for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL).
Moreover, it provides information and support
Europol’s criminal intelligence to: EU crisis management structures and missions;
process centres of expertise for combating certain types of
crime falling within Europol’s objectives, which are
At the strategic level, Europol adds value to infor- facilitated, promoted, or committed using the
mation provided by MS, to produce strategic diag- Internet; strategic analyses and threat assessments
noses of risks associated with transnational threats to assist in laying down strategic and operational
via its: Serious and Organised Crime Threat priorities of the EU; and assists the efficient and
Assessment (SOCTA); Internet Organised Crime effective use of EU resources for operational activ-
Threat Assessment (IOCTA); and EU Terrorism ities in MS.
and Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT). These
strategic reports have been described as Europol’s Europol’s crime analysis system
‘most important intelligence products’ (Ballaschk, Europol’s task in this context is the legal and effect-
2015, p. 37). At the tactical level, crime intelligence ive systemization of its data collection, analysis, and
work carried out by Europol is supportive of and evaluation practices. The intended outputs of those
complementary to the intelligence functions of the endeavours are intelligence products that help MS
MS; serving to increase the efficiency and function- in their prevention, diagnosis, and detection of
ality of the latter (Europol, 2018). Thus, at the op- transnational threats. The system draws on infor-
erational level where the intensity, extent, or nature mation from open sources and a number of discrete
of a threat challenges the ability of an MS to coun- databases. It is represented diagrammatically in
teract it, Europol can lend its support; helping to Figure 1.
collect, store, analyse, and disseminate information
between nations (Safjański, 2013). The ECAS process
Europol’s primary responsibilities are to notify As the figure shows, the process is executed accord-
EU MS, via Europol National Units (ENUs), of in- ing to the following phases: the identification of an
formation and connections between criminal of- organized crime group or terrorist organization
fences concerning them and to coordinate, through operational analysis; the location of the
organize, and implement investigative and oper- organized crime group or terrorist organization
ational actions to support and strengthen actions through the exchange of information between MS
by the competent authorities of the MS, where ap- and Europol; neutralization of the organized crime
propriate. In liaison with Eurojust; Europol group or terrorist organization (terrorists) by the
proposes and participates in joint investigation MS (e.g. through arrests, detentions, and disruption

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4 Policing Article Europol’s crime analysis system

Figure 1: Europol’s crime analysis system.

activity), with Europol’s analytical and other sup- neutralize the negative pressures and prevent ab-
port; and the provision of feedback to MS via stract threats predicated on the basis of experience
Europol’s systems and databases. and research or analysis.
In Europol’s combating of organized crime and Activities undertaken within the framework of
terrorist threats at the strategic level, the following proofing include the forensic assessment of the pro-
phases can be distinguished: first, the identification bative value of evidence (Gruza et al., 2008). Thus, in
of criminal or terrorist phenomena as a result of its combating transnational crime, reconnoitring and
strategic analyses; second, location of the criminal or detecting routinely are associated with the identifi-
terrorist phenomena through the exchange of infor- cation of threat, while neutralization more usually
mation between MS and Europol; third, neutraliza- features acts that amount to preventing or proofing.
tion of the criminal or terrorist phenomena through
In both cases, ECAS seems—in principle—to pro-
joint action by MS, international organizations, and
vide an efficient and effective vehicle for the lawful
Europol (e.g. through the development of pro-
and proportionate sharing of data (Safjański, 2017).
grammes of international activities) (Safjański, 2013).
In practice, the process of identification, localiza-
The concepts of identifying, localizing, and neu-
tion, and neutralization of transnational crime may
tralizing transnational threats require explanation.
include the following discrete activities:
These terms refer to the function of forensic sci-
ence, which distinguishes the following functions: 1. Identification of problem by Europol;
reconnoitring, detecting, preventing, and proofing 2. exchange of information within Europol;
(Hanausek, 2005). Reconnoitring develops meth-
3. identification of criminal relationships with
ods and measures calculated to obtain the greatest
other countries;
possible amount of information about the activities
and plans of criminals/terrorists. It aims to bind the 4. initiation of analysis in the form of an AWF;
criminal/terrorist acts with mechanisms that may 5. identification of further criminal relations
bring about change. Detecting aims to cement the with other countries;
operational knowledge obtained in the process 6. exchange of intelligence between interested
of reconnoitring. Preventing is taking action to MS;

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T. Safjański and A. James Article Policing 5

7. cooperation between MS’ investigators Examples of those work files are ‘Dolphin’ and
through operational meetings; ‘Islamic Terrorism’ (Europol, 2018). Both explore
8. preparation of international operations (sup- the threat from terrorism at the tactical level. In
ported by Operational Center 24/7); both cases, Europol analyses specific features of ter-
rorism, terrorist organizations, and terrorists oper-
9. direct analytical support (provision of mobile
ating in MS. Intelligence can provide the impetus
offices and experts);
for the security services of the MS to initiate inves-
10. information exchange with Eurojust. tigations or to implement police operations. Where
MS choose to commission Europol, the latter pro-
vides them with operational expertise in the form of
Significant Europol databases crime analysis and other specialist services.
Three databases probably have the greatest signifi-
cance to Europol’s work: Europol’s IS; the Asset recovery and financial investigation
European Bomb Data System (EBDS); and the Europol has stated that an important element in
Europol Analysis System (EAS) (Safjański, 2017). combating criminal networks is understanding the
IS primarily is used to support investigations. The financial aspect of their activities (Europol, 2018).
system collates and evaluates crime information Organized crime is big business, costing EU citizens
collected by MS and submitted to Europol. It also tens of billions of Euros annually. The loss in tax
is the repository for relevant data collected by revenues also has direct impacts on public finances
Europol staff. Its functions include the abilities to and on public confidence in the ability of the EU
search, visualize, and link information. Linking of and its MS to combat it (Bakowski, 2015).
data allows for cross-checking so that information Europol’s published policies and plans aim to sup-
about the same objects (persons, means of trans- port EU MS actions against organized crime.
port or communication, addresses) can be grouped Particularly, MS’ efforts to identify and localize
and classified. Common elements in putatively dis- the assets of those involved with organized crime
crete cases are determined and information or terrorist activity (Europol, 2018).
exchanged via Europol in a standardized manner. The system of cooperation between national
EBDS is a database of seized explosive devices. asset recovery offices is complemented by the
Data are collected in text and multimedia form (e.g. work of the Camden Assets Recovery Interagency
images and diagrams of electronic devices). The Network (CARIN). Supported by Europol (which
database provides European LEAs with informa- acts as the secretariat for CARIN), it provides a
tion about explosive devices, pyrotechnic materials, framework for the exchange of information and
or their components. The EAS is an operationally experiences regarding the identification, freezing,
focused IS that hosts data contributed by Europol’s seizure, and confiscation of funds related to crim-
stakeholders. The data collected are analysed using inal or terrorist activity. CARIN creates a system of
a wide range of tools. EAS is based on AWFs. These national police contact points that are utilized to
gather together operational and personal data, pro- identify property and other assets located abroad
viding material for comprehensive operational ana- (Safjański, 2010).
lyses of criminal activities. AWF can be considered In the context of counter-terrorism, Europol’s
to have two dimensions; a technical tool that or- financial intelligence capability is supported by
ganizes the analytical work and also a tactical entity the agreement concluded between the USA and
that organizes and focuses analytical and informa- the EU (on 28 June 2010) on the processing and
tion-sharing activities. transfer of financial data under the provisions of the

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6 Policing Article Europol’s crime analysis system

Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP). EU treaties and in international law. Largely, those
This agreement allows for the lawful exchange of treaties and laws are permissive. That is, actions and
financial intelligence between the USA and the EU behaviours are permitted, rather than prohibited,
via Europol. In order to meet its obligations under by those treaties or laws. In the context of this ana-
the agreement, Europol maintains a specialized lysis, it follows that those treaties and laws allow for
team of experienced IT experts and financial ana- the lawful exchange of information between MS
lysts (Europol, 2018). and between MS and the EU and its agencies but
they cannot, and do not, compel or otherwise
Assessing the success of ECAS oblige MS to share. Too often in practice, informa-
tion-sharing is sub-optimal (UK HLEUC, 2008;
The introduction of ECAS promised to give a new den Boer, 2015). That makes it nigh on impossible:
impetus to Europol’s efforts to combat trans- to determine accurately the specific effects of the
national crime (Europol, 2018). In principle,
measures taken by Europol; to assess the real sig-
underpinned by treaty and an institutional respect
nificance of Europol’s interventions; or to properly
for national regulations and legal norms, ECAS can
understand the extent to which the institution is
promote effectiveness, transparency, and intelli-
able to meet the expectations of its stakeholders.
gence practice that respects human rights and citi-
This phenomenon is not unique to Europol; in
zens’ freedoms. However, it is axiomatic that any
the law enforcement milieu, it is both institution-
intelligence system is only as good as its inputs, and
ally and culturally consistent (Berry et al., 1995).
researchers have found evidence that the system is
Safjański (2013) has argued that too often in the
being undermined by MS’ reluctance to share in-
European setting, attention to the lack of meaning-
formation—particularly sensitive information—
ful outcomes from an initiative or operation is de-
with each other and with Europol (Bures, 2008;
flected by institutionally driven celebration of the
den Boer, 2015). The second author of this paper
process or the commitment to multi-national co-
consistently has found information-sharing be-
operation that the process engendered.
tween police organizations and their partners to
Sheptycki’s (2007) research provided significant
be sub-optimal (James, 2013, 2016, 2017).
Specifically, in the context of this analysis, James evidence of policing organizations’ reluctance to
found that ENUs routinely sought from/shared in- share information; considerable organizational
formation with their own liaison officers at Europol and technical obstacles to sharing information rou-
headquarters; few of those communications were tinely were erected by the institutional actors he
recorded in the institution’s memory (James, observed. Eric Lichtblau (cited in Brodeur and
2016). Dupont, 2008, p. 25) highlighted that the withhold-
ing of information by police organizations was a
Shortcomings in the information process that ‘feeds on itself’. Agencies fail to share
management process information with partners so as to protect their
Arguably, one of the most important measure of the own knowledge interests; their claims that they
effectiveness of Europol’s crime intelligence model are ignorant of partners’ needs simply is the
is the number and quality of information reports it means by which they justify inaction (Brodeur
attracts. Europol cannot carry out its operational and Dupont, 2008). Although political imperatives
work effectively without comprehensive and timely cannot be ignored, it is argued that the focus rou-
reports from MS. As was noted earlier, Europol’s tinely should be on outputs and not on process
crime intelligence competences have their basis in (Safjański, 2013).

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T. Safjański and A. James Article Policing 7

A question of trust 86). Conversely, researchers have found that the

Scholars have argued that trust; sometimes, more value of trust in this context seems to be better appre-
accurately, distrust is at the heart of the informa- ciated by individuals who have proved adept at
tion-sharing dynamic (see e.g. Brodeur and building their own, often cross-cultural, communi-
Dupont, 2008). There is evidence of dysfunction in cation networks, and partnerships. For experienced
Europol’s relationships with MS; practitioners practitioners (or at least those well-connected), na-
sometimes seem reluctant to share information— tional boundaries are no barrier to such exchanges
particularly when that sharing goes beyond their (Safjański, 2013; den Boer, 2015).
own operating environment (Safjański, 2017; Enshrined in The Hague Programme (which
James, 2017). Tilly (2005 cited in Brodeur and introduced the concept of direct access to informa-
Dupont, 2008, p. 9) argued that trust provides a tion), the principle of availability also may limit the
safeguard against the ‘malfeasance, mistakes, and information shared by MS with Europol. The prin-
failures’ of members but too often that is in short ciple is meant to support the rapid and timely
supply. Arguably, lack of trust in Europol limits the transfer of information between MS. It allows
institution’s ability to collect the information it feels LEAs lawfully to exchange ballistic data, fingerprint
it needs (HLEUC, 2008; den Boer, 2015; Occhipinti, traces, DNA, vehicle registration information, tele-
2015). While it is accepted that intelligence pictures phone numbers, and the minimum required to
invariably are partial and confused, one cannot rea- identify an individual. This establishes the condi-
sonably expect Europol’s analysts to deliver compre- tions necessary for the rapid and seamless exchange
hensive analyses in these circumstances. Without of information on those subjects between the com-
that ‘missing’ information, the value of their intelli- petent authorities of the MS. In practice, it also
gence products is bound to be limited. Moreover, gives MS the opportunity to bypass Europol.
knowledge that might be corroborated by one or Therefore, the principle actually may limit
more of those direct communications may go un- Europol’s effectiveness because the information
corroborated and information held in ECAS that cannot be used by anyone other than those involved
could be validated objectively may remain uncon- in the transaction.
firmed and its value undetermined. Arguably, in both cases (peer-to-peer sharing
It is recognized that trust encourages the develop- and in instances where the principle of availability
ment of strong and enduring collaborations is cited), knowledge is shared only with selected
(Brodeur and Dupont, 2008). In their study of the insiders and does not land in those central nexus
UK intelligence milieu, James et al. (2017) found points where it can be analysed and evaluated more
little evidence of trust, or indeed strong and enduring formally for the benefit of the institution and its
collaboration between institutions. For example, partners and it can be incorporated into institu-
even though research respondents said that they tional memory. Therefore, behaviour that seems
recognized the importance of engaging with partners to demonstrate increasing interactivity may per-
and communities and of building trust with others, haps be better understood as evidence of isolation-
they acknowledged that officers needed more en- ism (James et al., 2017). That should be of
couragement to build relationships and that more significant concern to stakeholders—because
should be done to develop external relationships. Europol’s efforts in this context may be rendered
One respondent said that intelligence ‘processes ineffective—and to citizens because information-
and protocols inhibited, rather than encouraged sharing may be less transparent and therefore less
the free flow of information’ (James et al., 2017, p. accountable than it should be.

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8 Policing Article Europol’s crime analysis system

Mapping cooperation in action own ENU with requests for further instructions.
The following scenario outlines how the ECAS In the meantime, the Polish police make further
system can work in principle. Although it should investigations into the property, vehicles, and per-
be noted that trust, of the kind assessed above, usu- sons. The material collected allows for the initiation
ally is more easily gained by actors in tactical or ad of an operational control (information obtained as
hoc situations like the one we will describe. In such a result of it may be transferred to an AWF).
situations, the aims of the exchanges of informa- Further working meetings are held in The Hague
tion and services can be agreed face-to-face; the where information is exchanged, findings dis-
products of those exchanges are more obvious cussed, and proposals for further action made.
and more tangible (in terms of arrests, seizures Europol liaison officers and analysts gather, ana-
of contraband, and criminal profits). Arguably, a lyse, and disseminate information from the partici-
commitment to reciprocity is a key factor in strong pating MS (in an AWF). Its analysts identify
and enduring formal information-sharing arrange- criminal relationships in other countries (revealed
ments (James et al., 2017). We argue that it is more by personal contacts, telephone calls, bank trans-
difficult to achieve at the institutional level. fers, and so on). Europol hosts working meetings
Putative partners may not demonstrably share the but acceptance or rejection of the analysts’ advice is
the prerogative of the competent authorities of the
same aims, the benefits to each of the partners of
MS. All investigative activities are conducted under
any relationship established, may be less obvious or
the exclusive competence of the police and other
less quantifiable immediately, and—simply—it is
LEAs of the MS concerned. Europol’s final contri-
harder to build trust via email or other online com-
bution to these activities is the coordination of the
munication than it is through human interaction
tactical phase of the investigation through its 24/7
(Zheng et al., 2002; Furumo and Pearson, 2006).
operational centre, supporting the operation
In this fictional case, the Spanish police receive
through mobile offices, expert on-site consult-
information about the production of amphetamine
ations, and information exchange (Europol, 2018).
in Poland. Information is passed to the Spanish li-
In this scenario, we discussed the competence
aison officer at Europol (through the Spanish
and the capability of Europol and of the LEAs in
ENU). She makes direct contact with her Polish
each of its MS. As we have shown, the legality of
counterpart who sends the information to the ap-
these activities is not in question but it is not law or
propriate police department in Poland. Through
treaties that ensure that these actions are carried
simple operational actions at the drug factory through and investigations brought to successful
(such as interviews and observations), the Polish conclusions. Those successes depend on struc-
police identify vehicles registered in Britain and in ture—the framework that supports the investiga-
France. They update the Polish liaison officer who tion (the ECAS), agency—the motivation and
then discusses these initial findings with her capability of the people tasked with those under-
Spanish, British, and French counterparts. takings—and critically, the extent to which individ-
The British and French liaison officers report the uals can see that the demands made upon them are
movements of the vehicles to their own national balanced by the potential rewards. Researchers have
services. The British officer finds that the British found that trust seems to be much better appre-
vehicles are of interest to its National Crime ciated by the kind of task-focused individuals we
Agency (NCA). Intelligence suggests that they are have described in our scenario, who have proved
associated with an organized crime group specializ- adept at building their own, often cross-cultural,
ing in drug smuggling. The liaison officer group communication networks and partnerships. For
discuss these findings then relay them to their experienced practitioners (or at least the well-

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T. Safjański and A. James Article Policing 9

connected), national boundaries seem to be no bar- search for answers may need to go far beyond clas-
rier to such partnerships (Safjański, 2013; den Boer, sical ideas of policing, venturing into the fields of
2015). Conversely, a priori, it is much more difficult political science, psychology, and sociology where
for LEAs to achieve this level of trust at the institu- researchers have embraced new ways of thinking
tional level. Certainly, few can bring forward evi- about networks and intra- and inter-agency infor-
dence of their success in that regard; even if some mation transfer. We argue that finding those an-
have claimed it. swers not only is in the interests of Europol, its
stakeholders, and its law enforcement partners in
the name of efficiency and good governance but
Conclusion also in the cause of transparency and accountability
to the communities it serves.
It is only natural that the perception of the social
world as increasingly dangerous should stimulate
the development of policing systems that attempt
to harness information to deliver intelligence-led
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