Chicago Police Department goes hi tech to catch murderers in the act


With the number of shootings and murders in Chicago spiralling the Chicago Police Department have joined other cities in rolling out sensor and software networks that catch killers in the act.


In a cramped office in a police station in Chicago’s 11th district, the sound of gunfire is a little computerised ping that rings out a few times a day from a set of speakers bolted to the wall. Somewhere in the district a set of microphones has picked up and triangulated the percussive sound of a bullet and sent a signal, via California, to the station, which is where Kim Smith, a police analyst, hears about it.

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Ms Smith, a data scientist who from the University of Chicago, works at one of the city’s new Strategic Decision Support Centres, where data, technology, and old fashioned police work are being combined in an effort to control a sudden surge in gun violence in the city.


The ShotSpotter System in Action

Seconds after the ping, a large flat screen monitor displays a Google map of the gunshot location, and another connects to hi resolution surveillance cameras activated by the shot – sometimes fast enough to see a gunman fleeing, and usually two or three minutes before the first 911 call comes in. Sometimes someone happens to open fire while a live feed is rolling in the room.


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“I’ve seen a lot of shootings actually happen on screen in front of me,” said Ms Smith, who was new to the world of law enforcement when she joined the project, “the first time I was really shocked. You hear stories about people going out in the middle of the day in broad daylight, just walking the dog, and someone starts firing off rounds, but then to actually see it…”

Chicago PD’s new strategic centres were established in February after more than 4,000 shootings and 762 homicides in 2016 – a massive 59% increase on the previous year and more murders than New York and Los Angeles combined.

In fact the carnage was so bad that President Trump threatened in January to “send in the Feds” if “the city didn’t fix it,” and while this doesn’t necessarily solve the whole problem overnight it looks like it’s already had an impact on gun crime and reduced murders by “significant double digit amounts.”


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Chicago PD took blueprints from similar operations in Los Angeles and New York and set up two centres in the city’s two most violent districts – Englewood and Harrison, which account for 5% of the city’s population but nearly a third of all shootings last year, and soon they’ll be rolling out another four, at a cost of $500,000 each, which will cross the city, and if the preliminary results are anything to go by then it’s money very well spent.

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