In a room crammed with computer screens, Chicago police officers monitor high-tech tools that could hold the key to calming surging crime in the most violent neighborhoods, the Wall Street Journal reports. On one screen, they see a live feed from a surveillance camera of a drug deal happening on a street corner. With a few clicks, they can pull up mug shots of gang members to try to identify the dealers, or run a check on the license plates from nearby cars. Maps on the adjacent screen track shots fired in real time, bypassing 911. On another screen, color-coded squares mark locations where a computer algorithm has predicted a homicide, shooting or robbery may happen. “This is our new one-stop shop,” said Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Lewin. “We have never tracked this information with this specific granularity.”
The police department hopes its new $6.8 million Strategic Decision Support Centers, modeled on efforts in Los Angeles and New York, can help stem the surge of violence that has brought national attention to the city. Chicago has set up six centers in the most violent neighborhoods. Early results show promise. In two districts responsible for a third of 2016’s violence, shootings have fallen by 30 and 39 percent, respectively. Some academics are skeptical. They note that the idea of predicting where crime will happen isn’t much different from focusing on hot spots where crimes happened before. “The evidence for predictive policing is not very strong yet,” said criminologist David Weisburd of George Mason University, who developed the hot-spot theory in the 1990s. Civil liberties advocates worry about police following algorithms to target people. “People should be concerned that they will be stopped because the computer told the police to stop them,” said Matt Topic, a lawyer who has sued Chicago police over civil-rights violations.