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Can Departments Predict Crimes Before They Occur?

Can Departments Predict Crimes Before They Occur?

In this photo taken from video Dec. 31, 2010, Chicago Police superintendent Jody Weis is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in Chicago. [AP]

Chicago Sun-Times via YellowBrix

January 21, 2011

It was a bit like a scene from “Minority Report,” the 2002 Tom Cruise movie that featured genetically altered humans with special powers to predict crime.

In October, the Chicago Police Department’s new crime-forecasting unit was analyzing 911 calls for service and produced an intelligence report predicting a shooting would happen soon on a particular block on the South Side.

Three minutes later, it did, police officials say.

That got police Supt. Jody Weis thinking.

He wondered if the department could produce intelligence reports even quicker. Next time, officers might have an hour’s notice before a shooting — instead of just a few minutes.

The solution: Weis is now consolidating the department’s various intelligence-gathering units under his direct command to improve the flow of information.

The Deployment Operations Center, which gathers gang intelligence, will move into his office from the Bureau of Investigative Services.

The “DOC,” created in 2003, tracks human intelligence on gangs and holds a daily conference call with department leaders to decide where to deploy roving teams of officers.

The so-called 24-hour “fusion center,” which opened in 2007, also will move under the superintendent’s office.

The fusion center is one of dozens that opened across the country in response to a 911 report that called for better sharing of federal, state and local intelligence on terrorism.

The center is staffed with representatives of the Chicago Police Department and federal and state agencies. They have access to the city’s video surveillance system and various law enforcement databases.

The Predictive Analytics Group was already in the superintendent’s office.

Brett Goldstein, director of predictive analytics, said the change will allow his office to send out intelligence reports more quickly.

“We’re running against a clock,” he said.

The Predictive Analytics Group, which sorts through crime statistics and demographic data, was formed by Weis last spring.

At the time, the department was generating weekly citywide intelligence reports on violent crime and identifying “hot spots” of more than a square mile.

Weis said the goal of the Crime Analytics Group was to produce twice-a-day intelligence reports concentrating on smaller hot spots.

Nine months later, that’s been accomplished, said Goldstein, who said his unit also is working with detectives to identify robbery patterns.

Goldstein said he expects the intelligence reports will eventually go out more often than twice a day “as we move closer to real-time architecture.”

But the science behind the reports remains a mystery. Goldstein won’t give specifics on how his unit makes its predictions or identify the targeted areas, saying he does not want to tip off criminals.

Weis’ $310,000-a-year contract expires in March, but Mayor Daley has said he intends to keep him until the next mayor takes office in May. Weis is pushing ahead with the intelligence consolidation and other changes even though none of the mayoral candidates has indicated a desire to keep him as top cop.

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