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New technology helps police work smarter and faster

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson addresses the media following Mayor Rahm Emanuel's annual budget address at City Hall on Oct. 18. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Last week, Chicago’s newest district intelligence center was completed on the West Side (North Lawndale) community. The nerve center, our sixth, is more than just technology. As the mayor said at the launch event, it is a suite of software, intelligence and data analytics that combines the intuition and human insight of officers on the street with gunshot detection, camera technology and the predictive power of data.

OPINION

Veteran officers are often skeptical about new technology to reduce crime, and I can testify to that from my own experiences, but when I saw what this technology could do, there was no question that it would be an important piece of a broader strategy for bringing down gun violence in Chicago.

Technology supports the shift from reactive policing to proactive, place-based policing. It allows officers and civilian analysts to work smarter and faster, monitor gang conflicts in real time and make real-time changes to strategy.

In rolling out this new approach, we focused on six police districts on the South and West sides where gun violence has presented the greatest challenge — not just in 2016, but for decades — Englewood, Harrison, Deering, Austin, Gresham and North Lawndale. The early signs of progress in these districts are incredibly promising.

Englewood was the first community where we brought a district intelligence center online. That center has been fully operational since February, and today, Englewood is leading the city in violence reduction in 2017.

Englewood has seen a 44 percent reduction in shootings and a 38 percent reduction in homicides compared with 2016. Gun violence in the district is not just far below last year’s levels, it is also below 2015 levels. Across all six police districts where we have rolled out this new technology, shootings are down nearly one quarter compared with last year, outpacing the reductions we are seeing citywide. This is not a cause for celebration but a call for further action, investment and most of all, community partnership.

Behind these numbers are fewer families missing loved ones, less pain and unimaginable heartache, and more promise for a better tomorrow.

With Mayor Emanuel’s support we recognize the power and potential of these advanced policing tools, which is why, at my request, he included funding for six more district intelligence nerve centers in police districts on the South and West sides in his proposed 2018 budget.

While our investments in 2017 and in the proposed 2018 budget have focused on the South and West sides of the city, CPD remains focused on violent crime reduction citywide and our investments in more police officers are beginning to have an impact.  Just as neighborhoods on the South and West side are becoming safer, so are neighborhoods on the North Side.  Throughout the city there are neighborhoods that are on par or safer than cities and towns across the country where crime is considered low and measures of public safety are high. Logan Square, North Center, Albany Park, McKinley Park, Bridgeport and other neighborhoods – 26 in total – have homicide rates lower than or equal to Los Angeles. In fact, 17 neighborhoods have homicide rates lower than or equal to New York City, including Lincoln Park, Lake View, Lincoln Square, Hegewisch and Clearing.  This is a testament to the hard work of Chicago’s police officers.

Our mission is to ensure that safety is not reserved for one community or one area of the city, it is a right that every Chicagoan deserves.

New technology is an important component of realizing that mission. So is creating a culture of accountability in our neighborhoods, blocking the flow of illegal guns from out of state and holding gun dealers accountable, building bonds of trust between officers and the communities they serve, and ensuring our children have positive alternatives to gangs and the streets through increased mentoring, after school activities and summer jobs.

The fact that by the end of 2018, 12 of our 22 police districts will be home to the most advanced policing tools and technologies is a tangible sign of the meaningful, positive, sustainable changes under way at the Chicago Police Department.

There are many reasons to be hopeful.  Across the city, police officers, community leaders and residents are beginning to work together in leading the charge to get people to put the guns down and create positive alternatives for our next generation.  It is a clear indicator of a future where our neighborhoods are not divided by violence, but instead seen as a group of unique communities that make up one great city.

Eddie Johnson is police superintendent of Chicago.