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.

Coming Together

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.

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor