Chicago Police Say Technology, Data Driving Down Crime

Chicago Police say the end of April saw a modest reduction in shootings for the city of Chicago.

Year-to-date, shootings are down 13 percent. April was the second month in a row that shootings have decreased citywide.

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Although there were 45 murders and 308 shooting victims, the district says there were 9 percent fewer victims compared to this time in 2016.

Police say it all adds up to its new predictive technology being used in some of the city's more troublesome districts.

Over the last few months, the police department has announced the expansion of the Strategic Decision Support Centers, or SDSCs, in six districts.

They're kind of nerve centers where officers can look at several different software platforms that tell them where crime is happening in the district or where it could happen.

One of those systems is called ShotSpotter, which the district has been using it for a few years, but only recently in combination with these other tools.

ShotSpotter is basically an ear in the sky. It can hear when shots are fired and within 30 seconds relay the location within 25 yards to police officers in the SDSC. 

“In the past when you would have shots fired calls come in, it’s usually a general area. So you’ll get a call and it’ll say maybe where the caller’s from and they may be two blocks over, so you get the address of where the caller called it in, but you don’t necessarily know where the shots were fired,” said CPD Lt. Patrick O’Donnell.

“So you may be driving two, three, four blocks trying to find a crime scene or trying to find what’s going on before –where now you’re actually being directed to right where the shots occurred.”

In addition to ears in the sky, there are some eyes in the sky. For example, if dispatch receives a call about criminal activity in the area, it's geo-located on a map, and officers can pull up cameras in the area to help them see what's happening there and send officers in that direction. They can see car plates, and even mugshots of admitted gang members known to operate in the area.

What's more, police officers who're out on the beat use cellphones to get activity about what to be aware of in the district.

“We have a lot of young officers here in the district and this use of technology and the apps and the smartphones, it speaks to the millennial officer, who they are. It’s much easier work for them cause that’s how a lot of them communicate,” said Chicago police Cmdr. Kenneth Johnson.

“If you were to click on one of these boxes, you could see red – red is a high indication that there may be a homicide there and it would, if an officer goes into that area they’ll be given a prompt to start a mission there and either do perhaps high-visibility car patrol or foot patrol in the area,” O’Donnell said.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab is helping the district track the crime numbers, and in March of this year, the city experienced 39 percent fewer shootings compared to 2016.

Half of that reduction came from districts 7 and 11 alone -- that's Englewood and Garfield Park.

The Crime Lab also says those two districts witnessed 49 and 66 percent reductions in shootings in February and March 2017 that’s compared to a Crime Lab forecast model built using almost 20 years of shooting data.

In addition to the technology, the department is also relying on data -- specifically, data trends and analysis compiled by embedded data analysts from the Crime Lab. Each district has analysts working side-by-side with police officers in the SDSC.

University of Chicago Crime Lab research analyst Terry Neumann, who works in the 6th district, explained how his analysis of stolen car data led to something bigger.

“We looked at six months of data and tried to find out where are most of the vehicles in the seventh district being recovered, and we saw a huge cluster of activity on the southwest side of the district,” Neumann said. “We parsed it out and found that they were all being stolen from a very similar area. This information was shared with the neighboring district who then came up with a further hypothesis linking some of the actors involved with that to triple homicide in another district. So it’s just really about spurring that kind of communication.”

The SDSC's have been implemented in a total of six districts: Englewood, Harrison, Austin, Deering, Gresham and Ogden. Altogether, Crime Lab says the six of them account for more than half of all shootings in Chicago.

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