During the last three years -- since Chicago began operating its Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR) system -- the city has experienced a 16 percent decline in murders, rapes, robberies and other crimes against people.
During the same time, the national crime rate reportedly rose 2 percent, and Chicago police officials see that as no coincidence.
To them, it's proof that the information-driven crime-fighting tool, though still less than 75 percent complete, is working. Chicago is still finishing the communications network aspect of CLEAR, but the progress so far has convinced the Illinois State Police to merge its Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS) with CLEAR to form I-CLEAR, which is scheduled for rollout in December.
The merged systems will form a single criminal history records system statewide, from which law enforcement can access city, state and federal criminal records. It will also cut costs by consolidating the two systems' maintenance expenses, and will help eliminate information silos that prevent law enforcement from accessing needed information.
The 36-year-old LEADS provides a database for maintaining online records of wanted or missing persons, gang members, stolen vehicles and aliases of crooks to approximately 800 law enforcement agencies throughout the state. It also provides an administrative messaging component for law enforcement communications, and gives access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, which allows Illinois law enforcement to access other states' criminal justice information.
The CLEAR database, developed by Oracle, contains millions of incident reports and other information dating back 12 years, which can be linked with a single query, including queries from any of the 2,000 wireless, touchscreen notebooks in Chicago Police Department (CPD) cars.
I-CLEAR will give law enforcement throughout the state a predictive analytical tool to help them develop leads more quickly and share crime incident and arrest information more readily.
CLEAR is already used this way, and adding LEADS data will make it more powerful. In Chicago, special units called Deployment Operations Centers (DOC) rely on CLEAR data to combat a strong gang presence. Mapping the data shows officers where gangs gather and allows law enforcement to take quick action before something major occurs. Small icons of green guns on the maps represent locations of recent gang-related crime, which helps law enforcement predict future crimes. Law enforcement can strategically work areas they know are vulnerable to gang activity -- especially areas where rival gangs may cross paths.
Information on citizens whose activities are considered suspicious by police, including citizens without arrest records, also will be stored in the I-CLEAR system. That suspicious behavior could be an activity like someone taking photos of a nuclear power plant, according to Ron Huberman, assistant deputy superintendent of the CDP.
Even after factoring in an increase in murders in early 2003 -- before the DOCs used predictive analysis -- Chicago's murder rate dropped 7 percent in 2003. As of November 2003, the city's murder rate was down 33 percent from the same period in 2002.
The CLEAR system has changed the way Chicago law enforcement does its job, leading to the decrease in crime, CPD officials said. Accessing mug shots previously took up to four days. Now it takes seconds, and officers can generate a virtual lineup of likely suspects. Pulling rap sheets and logging evidence, which used to take hours, now takes seconds. Police can access CLEAR's database of 4 million arrestees and look up arrest record data in 1 minute. The system also generates automated police reports, which are routed directly to watch commanders.
The database receives more than 7,000 queries each day, and continues to grow by more than 400 arrests every day, according to the CPD. For each entry, there are more than 30 data points, including name, address, age, nicknames and tattoo descriptions.
Illinois State Police officials were an easy sell on the merger after witnessing the success in Chicago and all of Cook County, where 132 local law enforcement agencies share the same database, according to Huberman.
"We met up with the Illinois State Police, with whom we already had a good relationship, and we said, 'You guys maintain a huge data shop, and we have a huge data shop; there are so many efficiencies to be gained, and we could both improve our data quality significantly if we teamed up,'" he said.
Merging the systems will provide many benefits, and its considerable costs will be absorbed by new efficiencies, including the need for fewer personnel, said Huberman, who was instrumental in CLEAR's development.
"In essence, when we get down to one database, we'll need just a few database managers to maintain it as opposed to each of us having our own systems and needing our own database folks to manage it," he said.
Other efficiencies include saving on licensing for products, and especially in developing a case reporting system -- rather than the Illinois State Police developing a case reporting system and CPD developing its own, and each spending development dollars, there will be one, Huberman said.
"We're going to develop one [case reporting] system for everyone in the state," he said. "By doing that, it's tens of millions of dollars of savings by pooling our resources."
For full implementation of I-CLEAR, enough wireless bandwidth for patrol car computers to access mug shots, and eventually video, is still needed. The CDP is also replacing its entire network backbone with fiber, because the backbone was previously constrained to less than T1 speeds.
There are also challenges in completing the original CLEAR project. Funding to complete the entire project is more of a concern now since discounted consulting hours with Oracle have run out. The state pledged its help, and the Illinois State Police will provide $2.5 million in seed money for the I-CLEAR merger.
Huberman said he might impose a user fee for maintenance on outside agencies using the database. There are also challenges in melding LEADS and CLEAR, which are used to operating unilaterally, Huberman said.
"I wouldn't call them barriers, but they're certainly challenges at the moment. We're now operating as a team, and as part of that process, there are questions about approval and governance -- things we're working through."