Chicago Police Department Uses IT to Fight Crime, Wins Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award 2004

Chicago’s West side, the Shakespeare District, North Campbell Avenue, three blocks from Division, Wednesday night, November 19. Unmarked police cruiser unit 8i responds to a 9:06 p.m. dispatch. Violation of protection order.

The cruiser pulls up to a two-story brick house. Several women stand watching on the sidewalk and neighboring stoops. Several men are walking on the other side of the street, and two are hanging out in front of a store, also watching.

One of the women, Veronica, tells Sgt. Greg Hoffman that her estranged husband, ordered by the court to keep his distance, tried to approach her. He was wearing a hat for disguise. "He never wears a hat," Veronica tells Hoffman. He took off in a truck with friends, she says, pointing out one of her husband’s associates who stayed behind, a tall man wearing red sweats. Another patrol car pulls up, and officers round up the men across the street, including the man in red. The men stand, spread-eagled against a stockade fence, detained by Hoffman and Assistant Deputy Superintendent Ron Huberman.

After the cops pat them down and start asking them about Veronica’s husband, Huberman uses the patrol car’s touch-screen notebook (one of 2,000 outfitted in Chicago Police cars) to run Veronica’s address. He touches "send," and less than five seconds later, four incident reports dating back to early 2003, mined from the department’s relational database, appear on screen. Domestic battery. Two cases of violating a protection order. A suspiciously parked car. Veronica’s abusive husband doesn’t seem to know how to stay away. He also doesn’t know that tonight’s incident will join 8.5 million others in the CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting) system, the Chicago Police Department’s unique enterprisewide relational database.

Why the CPD Won the Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award

This violation isn’t the most serious crime reported tonight. There are gang wars going on in the Shakespeare and several of the other 25 districts the police use to carve up Chicago’s 228 square miles. But violating a protection order is a deadly warning sign. Four nights earlier, suspected domestic violence left 19-year-old Alia Chavez dead of a stab wound in her basement apartment on North Rockwell.

That’s one reason the officers questioned the men against the stockade fence. They were collecting physical identification and contact data on serially numbered "contact cards" that will be entered into the database and cross-referenced with known associates-including Veronica’s husband. Now, if one of these men does something wrong, the police will not only have the offender’s name and criminal history, they’ll know who he knows and who knows him.

This sort of intelligence-driven police work is a strategic objective for most metropolitan PDs, since 9/11 launched a new era of crime-fighting, but the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is leading the way. And it’s something of a miracle that it’s happening here, in the country’s second largest police force after New York City’s.

Chicago’s pursuit of IT value has been methodical and tenacious. Obtaining and maintaining funding, overcoming user resistance and laboring through drawn-out training sessions have been a continuous struggle. With nothing available to buy that met its vision, Chicago needed to partner with database giant Oracle. Three years and $40 million later, 50 percent of the original vision and applications have been implemented. But even at the half-way point, the CPD has proven to the city, county, state and beyond that IT can work in big city policing and does reduce crime.

For those reasons, the Chicago Police Department is this year’s sole recipient of CIO’s top enterprise value distinction-the Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award. "Enterprise value in its highest form is the opportunity for IT to transform a business, to bring a whole new model into existence," says Rebecca R. Rhoads, CIO of Raytheon and an Enterprise Value Awards judge. "The Chicago Police Department totally changed the game."

CLEAR is an enterprisewide vision of how anytime, anywhere access to centralized, relational data can empower intelligence-driven crime-fighting. While other police departments are struggling to integrate legacy data and applications, Chicago decided in the late 1990s that to have maximum impact, all policing intelligence should be accessible in one spot, with all tools leveraging and feeding that repository.

The CLEAR database, deployed in April 2000 and now topping 200GB, is the foundation for a growing set of integrated CLEAR applications used by all of the department’s 13,600 officers and most of its 3,000 civilians, plus an exponentially expanding base of users outside the city limits. In fact, the state of Illinois’ crime data system will be replaced by CLEAR, which will serve as the State Police’s data repository. Typically, 1,200 concurrent users run more than 7,000 queries daily against data that includes:

  • Arrest reports
  • Live cases’ statuses
  • Criminal activity by district, beat, street and address
  • Rap sheets with aliases, nicknames and distinguishing physical marks
  • Digital mug shots and fingerprints
  • Seized property and evidence tracking
  • Forensics reports
  • Personnel data-number of arrests by each officer and many other performance metrics

Clear’s Crime-Stopping ROI

The national crime rate rose 2 percent from 2000 to 2001, after a decade-long decline, according to FBI reports. But crime in the Windy City has continued to fall. In fact, in the past three years-the period CLEAR has been operating-Chicago rates have dropped 16 percent; that’s 34,564 fewer murders, rapes, robberies and other crimes against a person. And Chicago’s leaders have no qualms about attributing their success in bucking the nationwide trend to the use of CLEAR’s tools. "Crime in Chicago is declining, and I think it will continue to decline because of our ability to be information-driven," says Barbara McDonald, deputy superintendent of administrative services and initiator of the CLEAR vision.

Chicago is also solving crimes and closing cases at a higher rate across the board. The percent of 2003 sexual assault cases solved through the first quarter is more than 69 percent, up from 43 percent in 2001, and the rate for solving aggravated assaults is up 13 percent from 2001. Across all crime categories, CPD detectives are solving nearly one out of three reported crimes, up from less than one out of four in 2001, and the department is besting the average crime-solving rates for the nation and for the eight largest U.S. cities (see "CLEAR Closes Cases," Page 60).

Because the CPD envisioned CLEAR as an integrated, countywide crime-fighting tool, it’s granted free, real-time access to law enforcement agencies in Cook County. But the demand quickly spread beyond the county. More than 225 agencies across Illinois now access the database to catch crooks, who are increasingly mobile. In many cases, these agencies are adding their own arrest data to CLEAR.

Further afield, Indiana has expressed interest in the source code, and the CPD has demonstrated CLEAR to the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., police departments. Introducing a CLEAR presentation to leaders of his force, Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey said, "I don’t know of any other system like this in any other agency." The CLEAR system, he continued, "represents the best practice in the U.S."

Adds Washington Police CIO Phil Graham, "The CPD has created a model application that other law enforcement agencies should be learning from if not adopting." The D.C. force is in the exploratory phase of evaluating how well CLEAR’s applications, data warehouse and front-end interfaces will meet its needs.

A Badge, a Gun and a Computer

How does the Chicago police force use CLEAR tools and data to solve and reduce crime? They hunt for clues and matches, same as they do on the street, just much more efficiently. For example, a search for all records containing "bunny" tattoos takes four seconds and turns up 85 matches from 2003. (Playboy’s rabbit and Bugs are the most common forms of bunny.) Enlargeable full-color digital mug shots accompany each match. A search on the nickname "The Russian" turns up a man with 14 arrests, mostly for assaults. The location data with each arrest shows the offender bouncing between Chicago and Mount Prospect, a suburb. Police in Mount Prospect (who have access to CLEAR) investigating any assault by anyone nicknamed The Russian will zero right in on this guy, who apparently gets out of jail as frequently as The Penguin or The Riddler.

A home in Streamwood, Ill., was invaded by two black men in 2003. The victims heard one call the other by a nickname. Streamwood detectives, searching on that name in CLEAR via their extranet connection, found matches. Detectives used the integrated mug shot system to generate a virtual lineup of these likely suspects on a computer screen. The victims identified the pair, and the cops nailed them.

The most advanced use of computing in reducing crime is predictive analysis. The Deployment Operations Center (DOC), a 20-officer special unit, uses street intelligence, CLEAR data and a new CLEAR crime-mapping tool to identify potential hot spots, particularly for gang activity. "Our initial vision for information-driven policing has come full-circle with DOC," says McDonald. "They’re using CLEAR data to anticipate where crime may occur so we can have the resources there before it happens."

When mapped by CLEAR, locations of recent gang-related crime (indicated on the screen maps by little green gun icons) reveal patterns that point to areas where rival gangs are likely to cross paths. "I know four gangs are vying for dominance in this area," says Sgt. David Betz, pointing to a map with a relatively clear zone of several blocks, ringed by a dozen gun icons. "I can drop 35 extra police in this one area and saturate it." DOC officers make weekly recommendations to district chiefs to redeploy patrol officers in these locations. They also supply them with gang member suspects to look out for. "I can use CLEAR to find their hangouts, nicknames, and put faces with the names," Betz says.

The prediction concept seems to be working. Despite escalating gang hostilities citywide, saturated locations have remained relatively quiet. Earlier in 2003, before DOC began its work, the city was up 25 homicides over the same period in the prior year. As of November, the city was down 33 homicides from the same period in 2002. Chicago’s 2003 murder rate was down 7 percent from the previous year, the lowest since 1968.

The Productivity Payoff

Predictive analysis may be the most interesting contributor to cutting crime, but boring old productivity is making a difference too. Consider these workflow improvements enabled by CLEAR.

  • Accessing mug shots: From up to four days without CLEAR to four seconds with CLEAR.
  • Pulling a rap sheet: From four hours from request to receipt, down to seconds.
  • Logging in seized property and evidence: From three hours, down to one hour.
  • Checking offenders’ prison status and release dates: From 30 minutes, down to one minute.

For legal reasons, arrest reports must follow a carefully prescribed approval chain, capturing signatures attesting to the truth of the information. Instead of paper reports going to watch commanders’ inboxes to sit and wait, automated reports are electronically routed via XML file transactions to the right people, capturing their digital signatures-a change for which the department won grudging acceptance from the courts.

A "copy" function allows officers to cut and paste the same data from one report to the next. This function alone saves police so much time that one officer, who brought five offenders into the station on the same arrest, refused to default to the paper forms when the CLEAR arrest system went down. He just waited for it to come back up.

Overall, the department estimates that these efficiencies have given it the equivalent of 1.2 officers for every one it had prior to CLEAR. Labor savings total 193 full-time equivalents, including $5.3 million in overtime pay reductions. Productivity gains allowed the elimination of 345 clerical positions. Most important, 90 once-deskbound officers have been redeployed to the streets.

All told, the department estimates labor savings of $88 million from 2001 through 2003, more than offsetting the $40 million investment in CLEAR.

Clear’s Hero

Why is this happening in Chicago and not in your town? First, Chicago has a tradition of aggressive IT adoption dating back to 1984 when it first began capturing crime data in internal databases. It was willing to swallow the big up-front cost of developing CLEAR’s enterprise database. (Oracle took nearly 10 months to develop the data model alone.) Second, the commanders say, there’s the leadership of Mayor Richard Daley, who made CLEAR one of his priorities, and the past few CPD superintendents, who have made IT part of their agenda.

The third reason is Assistant Deputy Superintendent Ron Huberman.

"He took us under his wing and pushed resources, space, dollars and people to us," says Sgt. Diane Shaw, who is on the team that built CLEAR’s long-in-development and latest case-reporting application.

"Ron has made the difference with executive commitment. It wasn’t good before," adds Hardik Bhatt, director of development.

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