Trends in Organized Crime

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 278–294 | Cite as

Social network analysis as a tool for criminal intelligence: understanding its potential from the perspectives of intelligence analysts

  • Morgan BurcherEmail author
  • Chad Whelan


Over the past two decades an increasing number of researchers have applied social network analysis (SNA) to various ‘dark’ networks. This research suggests that SNA is capable of revealing significant insights into the dynamics of dark networks, particularly the identification of critical nodes, which can then be targeted by law enforcement and security agencies for disruption. However, there has so far been very little research into whether and how law enforcement agencies can actually leverage SNA in an operational environment and in particular the challenges agencies face when attempting to apply various network analysis techniques to criminal networks. This paper goes some way towards addressing these issues by drawing on qualitative interviews with criminal intelligence analysts from two Australian state law enforcement agencies. The primary contribution of this paper is to call attention to the organisational characteristics of law enforcement agencies which, we argue, can influence the capacity of criminal intelligence analysts to successfully apply SNA as much as the often citied ‘characteristics of criminal networks’.


Social network analysis Criminal networks Criminal network characteristics Dark networks Law enforcement Law enforcement organisational characteristics 



The authors would like to sincerely thank Victoria Police and New South Wales Police Force for their involvement, and in particular, the analysts that gave up their time to be involved with this study. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their critical input on an earlier version of this article.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was not funded.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors – Morgan Burcher and Chad Whelan – declare that have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities and Social SciencesDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia

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