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Taking IT to the Street

Taking IT to the Street

How the Chicago Police Department is using IT to enable intelligence-driven policing

Chicago's West side, the Shakespeare district, North Campbell Avenue, three blocks from Division, Wednesday night, November 19. Unmarked police cruiser unit 8i responds to a 9:06pm dispatch. Violation of protection order.

The cruiser pulls up to a two-storey brick house. Several women stand watching on the sidewalk and neighbouring stoops. Several men are walking on the other side of the street, and two are hanging out in front of a store, also watching.

One of the women, Veronica, tells Sergeant Greg Hoffman that her estranged husband, ordered by the court to keep his distance, tried to approach her. He was wearing a hat for disguise. “He never wears a hat,” Veronica tells Hoffman. He took off in a truck with friends, she says, pointing out one of her husband’s associates who stayed behind, a tall man wearing red sweats. Another patrol car pulls up, and officers round up the men across the street, including the man in red. The men stand, spread-eagled against a stockade fence, detained by Hoffman and Assistant Deputy Superintendent Ron Huberman.

After the cops pat them down and start asking them about Veronica’s husband, Huberman uses the patrol car’s touch-screen notebook (one of 2000 outfitted in Chicago Police cars) to run Veronica’s address. He touches “send”, and less than five seconds later, four incident reports dating back to early 2003, mined from the department’s relational database, appear on screen. Domestic battery. Two cases of violating a protection order. A suspiciously parked car. Veronica’s abusive husband doesn’t seem to know how to stay away. He also doesn’t know that tonight’s incident will join 8.5 million others in the CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting) system, the Chicago Police Department’s unique enterprisewide relational database.

This violation isn’t the most serious crime reported tonight. There are gang wars going on in the Shakespeare and several of the other 25 districts the police use to carve up Chicago’s 590 square kilometres. But violating a protection order is a deadly warning sign. Four nights earlier, suspected domestic violence left 19-year-old Alia Chavez dead of a stab wound in her basement apartment on North Rockwell.

That’s one reason the officers questioned the men against the stockade fence. They were collecting physical identification and contact data on serially numbered “contact cards” that will be entered into the database and cross-referenced with known associates — including Veronica’s husband. Now, if one of these men does something wrong, the police will not only have the offender’s name and criminal history, they’ll know who he knows and who knows him.

This sort of intelligence-driven police work is a strategic objective for most metropolitan police departments, since 9/11 launched a new era of crime-fighting, but the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is leading the way. And it’s something of a miracle that it’s happening here, in the country’s second largest police force after New York City’s.

Chicago’s pursuit of IT value has been methodical and tenacious. Obtaining and maintaining funding, overcoming user resistance and labouring through drawn-out training sessions have been a continuous struggle. With nothing available to buy that met its vision, Chicago needed to partner with database giant Oracle. Three years and $US40 million later, 50 percent of the original vision and applications have been implemented. But even at the halfway point, the CPD has proven to the city, county, state and beyond that IT can work in big city policing and does reduce crime.

For those reasons, the Chicago Police Department was this year’s sole recipient of US CIO’s top enterprise value distinction — the Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award. “Enterprise value in its highest form is the opportunity for IT to transform a business, to bring a whole new model into existence,” says Rebecca Rhoads, CIO of Raytheon and an Enterprise Value Awards judge. “The Chicago Police Department totally changed the game.”

CLEAR is an enterprisewide vision of how anytime, anywhere access to centralized, relational data can empower intelligence-driven crime-fighting. While other police departments are struggling to integrate legacy data and applications, Chicago decided in the late 90s that to have maximum impact, all policing intelligence should be accessible in one spot, with all tools leveraging and feeding that repository.

The CLEAR database, deployed in April 2000 and now topping 200GB, is the foundation for a growing set of integrated CLEAR applications used by all of the department’s 13,600 officers and most of its 3000 civilians, plus an exponentially expanding base of users outside the city limits. In fact, the state of Illinois’ crime data system will be replaced by CLEAR, which will serve as the State Police’s data repository. Typically, 1200 concurrent users run more than 7000 queries daily against data that includes:

  • Arrest reports
  • Live cases’ status
  • Criminal activity by district, beat, street and address
  • Rap sheets with aliases, nicknames and distinguishing physical marks
  • Digital mug shots and fingerprints
  • Seized property and evidence tracking
  • Forensics reports
  • Personnel data — number of arrests by each officer and many other performance metrics

CLEAR’s Crime-Stopping ROI

The national crime rate in the US rose 2 percent from 2000 to 2001, after a decade-long decline, according to FBI reports. But crime in the Windy City has continued to fall. In fact, in the past three years — the period CLEAR has been operating — Chicago rates have dropped 16 percent; that’s 34,564 fewer murders, rapes, robberies and other crimes against a person. And Chicago’s leaders have no qualms about attributing their success in bucking the nationwide trend to the use of CLEAR’s tools. “Crime in Chicago is declining, and I think it will continue to decline because of our ability to be information-driven,” says Barbara McDonald, deputy superintendent of administrative services and initiator of the CLEAR vision.

Chicago is also solving crimes and closing cases at a higher rate across the board. The percent of 2003 sexual assault cases solved through the first quarter is more than 69 percent, up from 43 percent in 2001, and the rate for solving aggravated assaults is up 13 percent from 2001. Across all crime categories, CPD detectives are solving nearly one out of three reported crimes, up from less than one out of four in 2001, and the department is besting the average crime-solving rates for the nation and for the eight largest US cities (see “CLEAR Closes Cases”, page 54).

Because the CPD envisioned CLEAR as an integrated, countywide crime-fighting tool, it’s granted free, real-time access to law enforcement agencies in Cook County. But the demand quickly spread beyond the county. More than 225 agencies across Illinois now access the database to catch crooks, who are increasingly mobile. In many cases, these agencies are adding their own arrest data to CLEAR.

Further afield, Indiana has expressed interest in the source code, and the CPD has demonstrated CLEAR to the Los Angeles and Washington, DC, police departments. Introducing a CLEAR presentation to leaders of his force, Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey said: “I don’t know of any other system like this in any other agency.” The CLEAR system, he continued, “represents the best practice in the US”.

Adds Washington Police CIO Phil Graham: “The CPD has created a model application that other law enforcement agencies should be learning from if not adopting.” The DC force is in the exploratory phase of evaluating how well CLEAR’s applications, data warehouse and front-end interfaces will meet its needs.

A Badge, a Gun and a Computer

How does the Chicago police force use CLEAR tools and data to solve and reduce crime? They hunt for clues and matches, same as they do on the street, just much more efficiently. For example, a search for all records containing “bunny” tattoos takes four seconds and turns up 85 matches from 2003. (Playboy’s rabbit and Bugs are the most common forms of bunny.) Enlargeable full-colour digital mug shots accompany each match. A search on the nickname “The Russian” turns up a man with 14 arrests, mostly for assaults. The location data with each arrest shows the offender bouncing between Chicago and Mount Prospect, a suburb. Police in Mount Prospect (who have access to CLEAR) investigating any assault by anyone nicknamed The Russian will zero right in on this guy, who apparently gets out of jail as frequently as The Penguin or The Riddler.

A home in Streamwood, Illinois, was invaded by two men in 2003. The victims heard one call the other by a nickname. Streamwood detectives, searching on that name in CLEAR via their extranet connection, found matches. Detectives used the integrated mug shot system to generate a virtual line-up of these likely suspects on a computer screen. The victims identified the pair, and the cops nailed them.

The most advanced use of computing in reducing crime is predictive analysis. The Deployment Operations Centre (DOC), a 20-officer special unit, uses street intelligence, CLEAR data and a new CLEAR crime-mapping tool to identify potential hot spots, particularly for gang activity. “Our initial vision for information-driven policing has come full-circle with DOC,” says McDonald. “They’re using CLEAR data to anticipate where crime may occur so we can have the resources there before it happens.”

When mapped by CLEAR, locations of recent gang-related crime (indicated on the screen maps by little green gun icons) reveal patterns that point to areas where rival gangs are likely to cross paths. “I know four gangs are vying for dominance in this area,” says Sergeant David Betz, pointing to a map with a relatively clear zone of several blocks, ringed by a dozen gun icons. “I can drop 35 extra police in this one area and saturate it.” DOC officers make weekly recommendations to district chiefs to redeploy patrol officers in these locations. They also supply them with gang member suspects to look out for. “I can use CLEAR to find their hangouts, nicknames, and put faces with the names,” Betz says.

The prediction concept seems to be working. Despite escalating gang hostilities citywide, saturated locations have remained relatively quiet. Earlier in 2003, before DOC began its work, the city was up 25 homicides over the same period in the prior year. As of November, the city was down 33 homicides from the same period in 2002. Chicago’s 2003 murder rate was down 7 percent from the previous year, the lowest since 1968.

The Productivity Payoff

Predictive analysis may be the most interesting contributor to cutting crime, but boring old productivity is making a difference too. Consider these workflow improvements enabled by CLEAR.

  • Accessing mug shots: from up to four days without CLEAR to four seconds with CLEAR.
  • Pulling a rap sheet: from four hours from request to receipt, down to seconds.
  • Logging in seized property and evidence: from three hours, down to one hour.
  • Checking offenders’ prison status and release dates: from 30 minutes, down to one minute.

For legal reasons, arrest reports must follow a carefully prescribed approval chain, capturing signatures attesting to the truth of the information. Instead of paper reports going to watch commanders’ inboxes to sit and wait, automated reports are electronically routed via XML file transactions to the right people, capturing their digital signatures — a change for which the department won grudging acceptance from the courts.

A “copy” function allows officers to cut and paste the same data from one report to the next. This function alone saves police so much time that one officer, who brought five offenders into the station on the same arrest, refused to default to the paper forms when the CLEAR arrest system went down. He just waited for it to come back up.

Overall, the department estimates that these efficiencies have given it the equivalent of 1.2 officers for every one it had prior to CLEAR. Labour savings total 193 full-time equivalents, including $US5.3 million in overtime pay reductions. Productivity gains allowed the elimination of 345 clerical positions. Most important, 90 once-deskbound officers have been redeployed to the streets.

All told, the department estimates labour savings of $US88 million from 2001 through 2003, more than offsetting the $US40 million investment in CLEAR.

CLEAR’s Hero

Why is this happening in Chicago and not in other towns around the country? First, Chicago has a tradition of aggressive IT adoption dating back to 1984 when it first began capturing crime data in internal databases. It was willing to swallow the big up-front cost of developing CLEAR’s enterprise database. (Oracle took nearly 10 months to develop the data model alone.) Second, the commanders say, there’s the leadership of Mayor Richard Daley, who made CLEAR one of his priorities, and the past few CPD superintendents, who have made IT part of their agenda.

The third reason is Assistant Deputy Superintendent Ron Huberman.

“He took us under his wing and pushed resources, space, dollars and people to us,” says Sergeant Diane Shaw, who is on the team that built CLEAR’s long-in-development and latest case-reporting application.

“Ron has made the difference with executive commitment. It wasn’t good before,” adds Hardik Bhatt, director of development.

“Without Ron,” sums up Deputy Superintendent McDonald, “this wouldn’t have happened.”

Sworn in as an officer in 1995, Huberman, 32, worked the streets, and then in October 2000 joined IS as its director. Despite having no IT background (he squeezed in an MBA and master of arts in social services in 2000), Huberman realized the department was not leveraging IT the way it could. “I’ve worked the street and understand what officers need to solve crimes,” Huberman says. He put himself forward to help conceive and execute CLEAR, which is now his main responsibility as head of information services, R&D and policy, and the records division.

Huberman also brought in other cops to work on development. Beginning in 2001 with an ad in the Chicago Police Daily Bulletin inviting officers with an interest in IT to join him, he now has 18 officers detailed full-time on CLEAR development and training, not to mention hundreds who have helped in application development teams, focus groups and user acceptance testing, including new Chicago Police Superintendent Philip J Cline.

“All our technology tools have been developed by members for members,” McDonald says. “It isn’t some vendor coming in and saying: ‘This is what you need.’”

Winning Over the Cop on the Beat

Pre-Huberman, the CPD gave itself two black eyes when it rolled out its 1999 case reporting component of CHRIS (Criminal History Records Information System). Developed without input from cops on the beat, rushed to meet Y2K deadlines, “there was no buy-in and no testing,” recalls IS Director Charles Padgurskis. “It went out as a big-bang rollout, and it just didn’t work.”

The CHRIS data-entry screens did not follow the logical (and familiar) order of incident reporting. It was hard to enter data, and the data it asked for was oriented more toward bureaucratic oversight than police work. The uproar was so bad, “it still resounds in the halls today”, Padgurskis says. It took a year to implement angry users’ change requests, which topped 200. The CHRIS system evolved and is in use today. But new incident and arrest reporting tools with wireless capability will replace it by the end of 2004. Patrol officers will input reports from their car notebooks, eliminating the 24-hour turnaround to get paper incident reports online and into the database.

The single most effective strategy in winning over users to CLEAR has been that officers train and support the users in their own districts, says Officer Michael Tomasiello. Tomasiello is a user liaison for the new CLEAR automated arrest system rollout. Training takes many forms, including 20-minute briefings during morning roll-call, streaming video and two-day offsite training.

To minimize resistance and make training simpler, designers made the interfaces consistent with the paper forms they replaced and mirrored consumer shopping site designs. Online help manuals are available; wizard-style Q&A prompts guide users through data entry; single sign-on ability gets users into all authorized CLEAR apps, and rolling the mouse icon over record fields or boxes triggers pop-up help boxes.

Still, with 13,600 officers, even the most conscientious training doesn’t always work for everyone. A workflow audit revealed that one officer had nearly 100 incident reports piled up in his PC. When asked why he hadn’t routed them to his superior, he said he just didn’t know how. A half hour of one-on-one training got him on his way.

There’s still resistance to change, particularly among older officers. The average age of officers in Chicago is early 40s. That’s long in the tooth for a police force, Huberman says. But rigorous joint application development (JAD) sessions, acceptance-testing for each CLEAR app, and a 24/7 help desk have reduced grumbling. And, except for backup in case of system failure, alternative systems are eliminated once CLEAR modules roll out. (For more on how the Chicago Police managed change resistance, see “Winning Over the Rank and File”, page 52 ).

“It used to feel like the end of the world when we’d roll something out; resistance was so awful,” Huberman says. By contrast, he adds, “we just added a paperless medical plan to our personnel suite, and it went live without a peep from anyone.” IS actually has a backlog of 35 small projects requested by cops eager to leverage data in new ways.

When the Going Gets Tough . . .

Copious training and the methodical JAD method (there are months of sessions and focus groups before any coding begins) have been a double-edged sword. While it all helps to ensure user buy-in and to develop useful tools, it also takes time. Since CLEAR applications are enterprisewide, it can, in fact, take more than a year and a half to train every user. Given staffing rules and requirements, only two officers per district can be taken offline for training at any given time.

Personnel changes slow things down as well. Huberman wages “a constant struggle” to hold onto cops detailed to IS. Because of resource constraints, they may be redeployed at any time. Civilian IT staff and Oracle consultants have helped maintain consistency on the various projects.

Another drag on the project has been the never-ending pursuit of funds. After working with Oracle on a time and materials basis from 1995, the department entered into a $US32 million partnership with the database giant in July 2001 (with Huberman as lead negotiator for the police). Chicago pledged $US12 million, and Oracle granted a 50 percent discount on 180,000 consulting hours and 1000 hours of Oracle University training in exchange for shared ownership of the intellectual property. Under contract terms, Oracle’s code is royalty-free, but Oracle can charge other clients for consulting and customization.

To keep development costs down, Chicago employed Oracle’s CDM Fast Track development tool and rapid application development methodology, using a palette of preconstructed, built-in features to quickly deploy apps. Since user screen code is contained in the database rather than in the client/server tier, a code change made in the database is immediately available citywide. It took only 22 days to automate the paper-intensive contact card system into CLEAR. It would normally take three to four months, according to Bhatt.

But the discounted consulting hours have now run out, and Chicago must fund future CLEAR applications on its own. Huberman, who says he spends one-third of his time on funding-related work, is already on the case. He’s secured $US10 million for post-partnership funding and anticipates Illinois will help fund CLEAR development now that State Police are planning to use Chicago’s database as their own data repository. If necessary, Huberman says, he will consider imposing some sort of nominal user fee on outside agencies using Chicago’s database to help pay for maintenance.

Technology challenges still to be overcome include obtaining enough wireless bandwidth to allow mug shots (and eventually video) to be accessed from the patrol car computers. The department is also replacing its entire network backbone with fibre (fibre was already in place, but speeds were constrained to less than T1). The problem has been Chicago’s old infrastructure; some of the district stations go back to the 1800s, and the wiring is not much newer. But the oldest are being replaced by five new buildings now under construction.

Going National

Despite its slow, methodical rollout, there’s little chance that CLEAR will stall, especially given the growing tendency of other US law enforcement agencies to query and add data to it. Susan Hartnett, research associate for Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research, says this extra-agency integration has been CLEAR’s most notable success. In March 2003, 175 municipalities were hooked into CLEAR. By the northern autumn, the number had jumped to 225. “It’s growing faster than they expected,” Hartnett says.

In fact, Deputy Superintendent McDonald was taken by surprise. Although she always envisioned CLEAR as a regional crime-fighting network, not just a local one, she was sceptical that it would catch on. “I knew it was technologically possible, but it was an issue of law enforcement waking up to the power of information-sharing,” McDonald says.

Federal interest is growing too. The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Drug Enforcement Administration are all tapping into CLEAR. Oracle, which has worked with Chicago to demonstrate the system nationally, is seeing momentum building around a national model. “The feds know that 90 percent of the effort will come from cops on the street; that’s where we’ll solve this problem of crime reduction and fighting terrorism,” says Doug Adams, a regional vice president for the public sector at Oracle Consulting.

Good criminal information is good terrorist information, since many terrorists are shown to have prior criminal histories. This would be particularly important to those policing the nation’s capital, where the hope of the Washington PD is to become a regional, national and international information hub in the war on terror. “Information is a weapon in fighting terrorism,” says Washington Police’s Graham. Monitoring and interpreting data in advance of attacks “can only be done with access to and delivery of reliable information”, which is a key feature of CLEAR, he says.

Just think about the possible advantage of knowing that a certain car, perhaps registered to a foreign national, was parked illegally in several sensitive areas in the US capital over a period of months.

Cops and Their Computers

Back on the local crime-fighting scene, Huberman and Sergeant Hoffman finish off their night patrol of the West side with a stop at the 14th District station. The cathedral ceilinged, glass-walled lobby looks more like a boutique hotel than a traditional pea-soup-coloured, grimy-walled government office. Every officer behind the front desk has a PC in front of him (or her, in two cases). One enters an incident report into CLEAR as someone tells her his problem in Spanish. Another officer is logging evidence into Etrack, CLEAR’s inventory tracking system. Back in the lockup, an officer asks an offender to lift his shirt so that he can photograph his tattoos. Another person sits handcuffed in an interrogation room as an officer enters his arrest report into a laptop bolted to the table.

“When I started in 95, every district station had only one PC,” says Huberman, watching all the computer activity.

“Man, this place has changed.”

Chicago by the Numbers

The CPD is the second largest police force in the US (after New York City) based on number of officers

Sworn officers: 13,600

Civilian employees: 3000

Population served: 3 million

Area covered: 590 square kilometres

Arrests per day in city limits: 700

Arrests per day in surrounding municipalities: 250

IT staff: 142

Critical Success Factors

  • Develop systems with extensive user input in a joint application development process.
  • Use employees to train their peers on new systems.
  • Design interfaces to resemble established paper forms and user norms.
  • Market new system internally with powerful anecdotes that reflect the department’s core mission.
  • Phase out systems and tools after rollout to eliminate workarounds.

Under CLEAR’s Bonnet

  • Database: Oracle 9i, 200GB, 160 code tables. Queried by SQL, Crystal reporting tools. HTML DB development environment.
  • Architecture: Three-tier. All user screens and front ends stay in the database tier as SQL files. All reports and applications reside on distributed Web application servers.
  • Hardware: Sun’s SunFire database and Internet application servers with Solaris 8 operating system. Sun StorEdge Disk Array storage area network. 2000 MicroSlate wireless mobile notebooks and 3000 desktops.
  • Security/Continuity: Firewalls, encryption and digital certificates. User and server authentication where required. Automated component failover, one-hour site failover, disk mirroring, offsite (but still in Chicago) backup database and application servers.

Winning Over the Rank and File

By Todd Datz

A well-thought-out strategy for change management is critical to the success of any new system

Take a grizzled, 50-year-old cop who’s been patrolling the streets for decades and has grown quite comfortable filling out five-ply carbon forms to process all his arrests and casework. Then you suddenly order him to start doing his reports on a computer, an alien-looking object he may have never laid a finger on in his life. Indeed, one veteran cop on his first day of system training on a PC picked up the mouse without logging on, pointed it at the screen and started clicking away. When nothing happened, he asked why the damn thing wasn’t working.

That’s the whopper of a change management task that the Chicago Police Department — the second-largest department in the US with more than 16,000 police officers and civilian employees — faced as it began developing the CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting) system, a relational database that sifts through massive amounts of data to give officers the information they need to fight crime.

In fact, when the case report component of the first CLEAR module, a criminal history records information system that also produces arrest reports for detectives, was rolled out in 1999, it was a disaster. The detectives hated it for a number of reasons: It wasn’t user-friendly, the process of getting approval from supervisors proved arduous and involved multiple screens, and detectives weren’t given proper training. After a year of listening to detectives’ grumbling, managers realized they had to do something.

First, they set about building internal competence in the information services group, and that meant replacing more than half of the management team. “It was a good team, but we needed a different set of skills — people who could manage a large-scale enterprise, people with business skills, project managers, development directors who could understand the business needs of our users and manage a team that would build out, and understand the enterprise structure we were building,” says Ron Huberman, who became assistant deputy superintendent of information and strategic services for the Chicago Police Department in 2001. After revamping his team, Huberman focused on training his technology staff, from entry-level developers all the way up to senior managers. At that point, the information services group was ready to begin full-fledged development of the new system.

They began by sending a team of their best programmers out to the field for six weeks to document all the issues users had with the system. The group came back with 200 specific requests for changes, ranging from implementing an easier approval process to changing the format of how the reports printed. IS leaders also made it a point to glean user input throughout the development process. They instituted JAD (joint application design) sessions, which involved teams made up of management, users and technical staff. They formed focus groups from all ranks to gather input. Teams of officers went out to the 25 districts to field-test new apps and train officers. Having officers — not civilians — be the trainers has made a huge difference to the cop on the street.

“There’s a certain degree of comfort [with other police officers],” says Sergeant Howard Lodding. He is one of a number of cops from the street who have been brought in to the information and strategic services division as part of the department’s change management strategy. A few years ago, there were no officers in the IT shop; now there are 18, and their background in the field helps them design modules in the CLEAR system with users in mind. Their experience also ensures them respect in the field when they train users on the system.

Unfinished Business

What does the C in CLEAR stand for?

It’s “citizen”, and the Chicago Police Department hasn’t forgotten that. But the citizen and business partnership is the one part of the CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting system) vision that has yet to be realized. Applications were supposed to make it easier for citizens to conduct business with the police, file complaints and share information. And although Chicago has had an innovative community policing program in place since 1993, “I’m beginning to champ at the bit because I want to conceptualize the [CLEAR] community applications, which we’ve done very little in to this point,” says Barbara McDonald, deputy superintendent of administrative services.

The department holds monthly beat meetings with citizens and provides a crime-mapping tool ( and up-to-date crime stats for individual neighbourhoods on its Web site. But other citizen participation plans have had to wait in line behind the development of CLEAR’s infrastructure and crime-fighting tools. The department trumpets its crime-solving accomplishments though its CrimeWatch public service TV show, but McDonald says the department’s reputation has not improved as much among the citizenry as it has among other law enforcement agencies.

— R Pastore

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