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New tech center helping cops process videos, solve crimes faster, police say

Chicago Police Sgt. Patrick Kinney shows off the new Area Tech Center’s video processing capabilities during a press conference at Area South Headquarters Friday. | Facebook/Chicago Police

A new technology center in a South Side police station will allow detectives to quickly process videos from private surveillance cameras — along with information from seized cell phones — for evidence in killings and other violent crimes, police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Friday.

Billionaire Ken Griffin donated $10 million last year to improve the city’s crime-fighting capabilities. Part of that was used to develop the Area Tech Center at the Area South detective headquarters at 727 E. 111th St.

“We wouldn’t be here right now without his generosity,” Johnson said.

Police officials said the new center has already made a difference, allowing detectives to analyze private surveillance videos from businesses downtown, where off-duty Officer John Rivera was gunned down on March 23. Three suspects have been arrested.

Officer John P. Rivera. | Chicago Police Department
Officer John P. Rivera. | Chicago Police Department

Johnson said it would have taken at least three additional days to process the same videos without the Area Tech Center, which is staffed by 10 officers, four detectives, an analyst and a sergeant. He said he hopes to have similar tech centers installed in the city’s Area Central and Area North detective headquarters.

The Area Tech Center gives a futuristic boost to detectives the same way the creation of Strategic Decision Support Centers provided technology to help patrol officers respond to shootings quickly, Johnson said.

Twenty out of the city’s 22 police districts now have Strategic Decision Support Centers, which allow analysts to use police surveillance cameras and gunshot-detector devices to help determine where cops should be deployed after a shooting.

The police say those centers have helped reduce killings and shootings, which soared in 2016. Murders were down 7 percent in the first three months of 2019 over the same period of 2015, according to department statistics. And shootings were down 17 percent.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab has been working with the police department to develop the Strategic Decision Support Centers and the Area Tech Center.

Sean Malinowski, chief of detectives in Los Angeles, has been consulting with the Chicago police department under a $250-an-hour contract the past two years and was involved in the development of the Strategic Decision Support Centers and the new Area Tech Center.

“You will see a difference in clearance rates,” Malinowski told reporters, referring to the solve rate for murders.

He said the hiring of additional detectives in Chicago over the past two years also should raise the murder clearance rate. He said there were 850 detectives when he started his consulting job in Chicago two years ago and that the department has since hired another 400.

Chicago detectives made arrests in about 30 percent of killings between 2015 and 2018, which critics have described as a dismal clearance rate.