Cover: Real-Time Crime Centers in Chicago

Real-Time Crime Centers in Chicago

Evaluation of the Chicago Police Department's Strategic Decision Support Centers

Published Dec 4, 2019

by John S. Hollywood, Kenneth N. McKay, Dulani Woods, Denis Agniel

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Research Questions

  1. What types of technology do SDSCs employ, and does this technology lead to improved operations and outcomes?
  2. What effect does an SDSC have on crime rates in its district?
  3. How can SDSCs improve organizational processes and better integrate with the overall network of Chicago police?
  4. Are SDSC operations sustainable, and what can be done to set SDSCs up for success in the future?

Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSCs) are the Chicago Police Department's district-level real-time crime centers, launched in January 2017 and expanded in 2018. They serve as command and control centers for staff to gain awareness of what is happening in their districts and decide on responses. SDSCs support daily and weekly planning meetings and provide near–real-time support for detecting, responding, and investigating crimes as they occur. Their objectives are to improve districts' abilities to reduce crime, hold offenders accountable, improve officer safety, and reduce service times.

In this report, the authors evaluate the processes, organizational structures, and technologies employed in the SDSCs. They also assess the extent to which the introduction of SDSCs was associated with reductions in crime levels in the districts. They find that SDSCs are a promising tool for supporting crime reduction. According to the authors' models, a district that adds an SDSC can expect to see reductions in at least some of the ten types of major crimes modeled, including shootings, robbery, burglary, and criminal sexual assault.

More broadly, the authors see SDSCs as a promising model for improving law enforcement agencies' awareness of their communities, improving their decisionmaking, and carrying out more effective and more efficient operations that lead to crime reductions and other policing benefits.

Key Findings

Overall, SDSCs were found to be promising tools for reducing crime.

  • In 40 models, districts' average monthly crime counts declined after adding an SDSC, albeit to a significant extent in 15 of the models (about 40 percent). There were models in which crime was increased. In absolute terms, estimated crime reductions, depending on crimes and times modeled, varied between 3 percent and 17 percent.
  • SDSCs went beyond data processing and presentation to analyzing historical data, making predictions, providing real-time insights, and supporting the development of institutions. They also enabled commanders to make data-driven planning decisions on much faster and regular intervals than was possible previously and enabled officers to engage in proactive, successful decisionmaking in the field.
  • However, the repertory of what was decided on—i.e., interventions in response to crime problems—tended to be limited, with the mainstays being to put more patrol resources and more camera time into problem areas.
  • The persistent availability of staff and a room to monitor operations, supported by cameras, a live map display, and other technologies, was emphasized by CPD staff for helping detect, respond, and investigate crimes in near real time.
  • The CPD has made progress toward sustaining the SDSCs through policy, informal information exchanges, meetings, and newsletters. However, processes, policy, and procedures (including budgeting) are not yet established enough to guarantee ongoing and improving operations as leaders change over time.


The report contains several recommendations for the CPD, which the department had already begun to implement at the time of publication.

  • Sustain the effort and improve processes and training over time. The CPD needs to further improve organizational learning at SDSCs, including by documenting lessons learned, processes, and best practices, as well as by developing training and onboarding, including for transitioning leaders. Similarly, the recruiting and retention of SDSC staff at all levels needs to be bolstered to increase expertise.
  • Expand the scope of SDSC operations, which are currently focused on reactive response to crime in patrol operations. There is a need to expand and formalize SDSC support for crime investigations. There is also a need to expand the districts' responses to crime issues, including by gaining trust with residents and having positive community interactions with them to get information to reduce or solve crimes.
  • Integrate technologies so that staff see displays of what is important to them. Currently, key information is split across multiple tools. The authors suggest integrating all sensor and crime forecasting data into the main public safety mapping display in SDSC rooms. These data include shot detection, crime hot spot forecasting, license plate reader detections, and relevant dispatch information.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Chicago Police Department and the Bureau of Justice Assistance and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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