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Chicago police unveil new technology aimed to help detectives solve more homicides, shootings

Chicago Police. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Police/TNS)

Chicago police announced new technology Friday aimed to help detectives more quickly pull video from surveillance cameras, analyze cellphone data and read license plates while investigating gun violence and other crimes.

The Area Tech Center, housed at Area South detective headquarters on the Far South Side, is part of a broader effort by the Police Department to improve its dismal clearance rate for solving homicides and shootings over the past few years.

Since opening in late February, the center has received nearly 200 requests from detectives in need of video and digital evidence processing.

One of those requests included video evidence from private and police street surveillance cameras that helped identify a suspect in the March 23 fatal shooting of off-duty Officer John P. Rivera in the River North neighborhood, police said.

“One of our challenges in solving crime here in Chicago has been the ability to efficiently identify, collect, download and review all the video resources connected to a crime scene,” police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters Friday at the center. “Unfortunately, this has resulted in lost evidence, lower clearance rates. … This has also impacted our relationships with those who have suffered from violent crime.”

The tech center was bankrolled by billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who pledged $10 million last year to support the department’s use of technology in high-crime areas.

The tech center is similar in concept to the department’s strategic decision support centers that operate in 20 of the 22 patrol districts across the city. But those centers use police surveillance video footage, gunshot detection technology and real-time crime statistics to help patrol commanders determine where to deploy beat and tactical officers.

The tech center places more of an emphasis on video and cellphone evidence collection and is specifically tailored for detectives.

As part of a series of articles last year about the department’s low clearance rate, the Chicago Tribune spoke with several detectives who said it was often a struggle to find the right computer program to open up surveillance footage or cellphone data.

On Friday, officials said the new tech center would help resolve those issues. The advancements would complement the nearly 300 detectives added by the department since 2016 to bring the total to about 1,200.

The department has also announced plans to add 50 sergeants to help supervise those detectives, a move that would bring the number of detective sergeants to about 190.

Melissa Staples, the department’s chief of detectives, said the tech center will be run by 10 patrol officers, four detectives, a sergeant and a crime analyst — all with technological training — during morning and afternoon shifts.

“This team will produce timely cellphone and video evidence analysis for detectives assigned to cases involving violent crimes,” she said.

The tech center is made up of a small room off the detectives’ floor at Area South with two big-screen TVs and about a dozen computer monitors where detectives can analyze video and other electronic-based evidence.

Sgt. Patrick Kinney, who helps run the tech center, said its officers can also assist other detectives at homicide scenes by viewing recovered video on laptops.

“It saves … hours upon hours for the detectives,” Kinney said. “It frees them up because we’re the ones doing the processing for them, we’re the ones recovering the video, analyzing the video, and then providing it to them with the investigative leads.”

The department said it plans to eventually add tech centers at its two other main detective units, Area Central and Area North.


© 2019 the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.