Advances in Crime Reduction: Establishing Strategic Decision Support Centers in Chicago, Illinois


In 2016, the city of Chicago, Illinois experienced 768 homicides, representing a nearly 60 percent increase from the previous year. With the recent dramatic increase in violent crime – particularly homicides committed with firearms – Superintendent of Police Eddie Johnson and city leaders recognized the need to enhance their crimefighting strategy.


Through the National Public Safety Partnership – previously known as the Violence Reduction Network – Superintendent Johnson requested assistance in identifying and implementing innovative solutions for reducing crime. Funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC), a group of violence reduction thought leaders convened to assess the analytical capacity of the Chicago, Illinois Police Department (CPD) to develop effective, long-term crime reduction policies. These subject matter experts included:

Over the course of the three-month assessment, the team embedded themselves within CPD, actively engaging with both command staff and police district personnel in the field through interviews, focus groups, and day-to-day interactions to understand the needs of the department and its staff. The team examined CPD’s existing crimefighting strategies, CompStat process, and crime analysis efforts to develop recommendations for solving Chicago’s violent crime challenges. This initial assessment phase ultimately revealed two needs: (1) to better integrate technology into CPD’s policies and practices by building out a crimefighting infrastructure, and (2) to specifically address gun-related crime.


Through the trust established by BJA Deputy Director for Policy Kristen Mahoney and Chief Gainer during the assessment phase, Dr. Malinowski and his team were well-positioned to advocate for and socialize the idea of establishing Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSCs) in Chicago’s districts. Pioneered by LAPD, SDSCs are hyper-local intelligence centers that use integrated, real-time analytics to support command staff decisionmaking. CPD and the team, in partnership with the University of Chicago Crime Lab (Crime Lab), piloted the first SDSCs in Districts 7 and 11, two neighborhoods historically at high risk for violence. At those locations, Crime Lab analysts and command staff utilize three primary sources to increase situational awareness and engage in risk-based deployment:

  • A mapping system that provides geography-based situational awareness;
  • HunchLab, a crime forecasting software that helps identify high-risk areas; and
  • ShotSpotter, a network of gunshot detection sensors that enables officers to respond more quickly and safely to gun-related situations.

Based on data from these tools, SDSC staff identify high-risk people and places and then develop mission parameters to guide command staff decisionmaking. As a result, CPD district commanders are better prepared to plan patrol deployment, respond to calls, and activate a targeted, predictive policing strategy. Additionally, the data is fed to mobile devices used by officers in the field, providing them access to real-time information. In return, officers collect and transmit data and intelligence from the field, resulting in an iterative data collection process. This “360-degree feedback loop” enables SDSC staff and senior law enforcement officials to assess which policies and practices have been most effective, leading to the continuous enhancement of crimefighting solutions and crime prevention strategies.

Preliminary Results and Next Steps

The implementation of the SDSC model has proven successful in the city of Chicago. While citywide shooting and homicide rates decreased in 2017, the decline was greatest in SDSC districts. For example, in the pilot 7th and 11th Districts, CPD saw a 33 percent reduction in shooting incidents, compared to a 14 percent reduction in shooting incidents in non-SDSC districts. As these results emerged, CPD established SDSCs in four additional districts by the end of 2017, resulting in a 28 percent decrease in shootings and 24 percent decrease in homicides across the six districts. The success of this crimefighting approach has led to continued expansion of the program, bringing the total number of SDSC-equipped districts to 16 out of 22 by fall 2018. Additionally, CPD is working to hire additional crime analysts directly through the department, further enhancing its crimefighting capacity.

These successes also prompted BJA and the Crime Lab to host the first Chicago Crimefighters Conference in January 2018, which gathered police leaders and prosecutors from 22 cities to share how CPD leveraged technology to reduce gun crime and violence. In his opening remarks, Superintendent Johnson noted, “Nearly two years ago, when we saw a significant increase in gun violence in the city of Chicago, addressing it and eliminating it became one of our most formidable challenges for our city. Everyone in this city, from CPD to our community and criminal justice partners, have rolled up their sleeves to implement innovative strategies to make Chicago safer and begin to build a culture of accountability for gun offenders. […] We’ve created a model so powerful that, along with the hard work of our officers, saw […] nearly 900 less people shot in the city last year.”

In addition, through BJA’s Strategies for Policing Innovation (SPI) grant program, the Chicago SPI project is evaluating the implementation of the SDSCs and the impact on violent crime in the target districts and citywide. Further, SPI is examining the effectiveness of the Crime and Victimization Risk Model designed to identify individuals at-risk of being a victim or perpetrator of a shooting, as well as a custom notification system designed to direct these individual to support services. Early results indicate that this initiative has also been a key contributor to the city’s 13 consecutive months of declining gun violence.

For Dr. Malinowski, the work with CPD represents an effective, transferable model in which police departments and research partners collaborate to assess crimefighting capacity and technology, as well as develop a plan for and implement SDSCs.

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If your agency or community is interested in crime reduction and crimefighting strategies or would like to apply for technical assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at to discuss your unique criminal justice needs.