Why did it take Chicago cops more than 30 minutes to find a fatally wounded officer?

A ShotSpotter alert quickly picked up the barrage of gunfire that struck Officer Aréanah Preston, but it took another alert from the officer’s Apple Watch to send a traffic cop to the scene.

SHARE Why did it take Chicago cops more than 30 minutes to find a fatally wounded officer?

Chicago police gather in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue hours after an off-duty Chicago Police Officer Aréanah Preston was shot to death while returning to Avalon Park home Saturday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

ShotSpotter, the city’s gunshot detection system, quickly picked up a barrage of gunfire that left Chicago Police Officer Aréanah Preston fatally wounded during a shootout with robbers on her way home from work early Saturday.

However, an officer wasn’t dispatched to her block in Avalon Park until her Apple Watch reported a car crash around 2:02 a.m., roughly 20 minutes after the initial ShotSpotter alert. A traffic cop ultimately responded at 2:15 a.m. and reported Preston had been shot.

“We got a person shot. It’s an off-duty [police officer],” the traffic cop says over the radio before rushing Preston to the hospital himself.

In the two days since the shooting, police officials haven’t provided an explanation why it took so long for police and emergency crews to respond to the shooting.

Anthony Riccio, the retired first deputy police superintendent, said it appears there was a backlog of calls and “the dispatcher didn’t have a car to assign to the ShotSpotter alert.”

“When they received the traffic accident from the Apple Watch, [the dispatcher] gave it to a traffic car,” he noted. “Typically it’s a one-man car, and the only thing they’re assigned to is traffic accidents.”

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Traffic cops typically cover an entire police district, not a smaller beat like patrol cars, Riccio noted.

“Because they’re a one-man car, they don’t get assigned shots fired, domestics, robberies, things like that,” he said. “Nothing precludes them from going, but typically they’re not assigned to them, and they don’t go to them.

“Had somebody gotten there sooner,” he added, “it may have had a different outcome certainly.”

The ShotSpotter alert came in at 1:43 a.m., and a dispatcher alerted officers over police radio that nine rounds had been detected in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue.

Nearly 20 minutes later, a dispatcher came over the radio to report that an Apple Watch had alerted a traffic crash in the same block. The watch belonged to Preston, sources said.

“I’m comin’ from a distance,” the officer says.

“All right, and just for info, there was a ShotSpotter out there around the same time,” the dispatcher responds.

Around the time of the Apple Watch alert, a police cruiser was struck by a vehicle that fled in the 8700 block of South South Chicago Avenue, about 2 miles from where Preston was found shot, according to police.

Officers in multiple police vehicles radioed they were headed to the crash, prompting one officer to radio back: “We don’t need the whole world coming here. We just need a couple of cars for traffic.”

Two officers were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t thought to be life-threatening.

Roughly 13 minutes passed before the responding traffic officer found Preston shot and announced over the radio: “It’s not looking good. Get an ambulance here now.”

Over the next several minutes, authorities worked to block off streets as the traffic officer rushed Preston to the University of Chicago Medical Center. A police helicopter eventually coordinated with the dispatcher to block off streets on the way to the hospital, where Preston was pronounced dead.

With the department facing a manpower shortage, Riccio forecast more issues with staffing and “a rough summer” for rank-and-file cops.

“I’m sure they’re probably going to be facing day-off cancellations again on a regular basis,” he said. “In many cases, it’s just to man the beat cars in the districts that they work in. So then layer on top of that these special events [and] the issues downtown.”

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