A new era in POLICING

     Chicago's skies have not been patrolled by police for almost 25 years. But thanks to $2 million in Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the City of Chicago and Cook County police are back in the air again with a brand new Bell 206 JetRanger and retrofitted Bell 206L helicopter.

     Both helicopters are outfitted with UHF, VHF, 800-MHz and crossband repeat radios, LoJack stolen vehicle detection systems, moving map systems, Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR), video monitors in the passenger and crew compartments, digital video recorders, microwave downlink system and a searchlight. The JetRanger also has a Chelton Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS), Exploranium Gamma Radiation Detector and night vision instrumentation.

     On a recent flight 1,200 feet above the Windy City, Harold Hohm, chief pilot of the Chicago Police Department and Cook County Sheriff's Office Helicopter Task Force performed a homeland security check of the water intake cribs in Lake Michigan and the water filtration plants along the shore. Hohm stresses the importance of using helicopters for various law enforcement needs.

     "We have to be flexible," Hohm says. "We consider everyday crime fighting to be as important as our homeland security duties. We use these helicopters for crowd control, surveillance, narcotics activity, gang activity and to protect the lives of our officers and citizens."

     Deputy superintendent John Risley considers the cooperative atmosphere the most valuable component to fighting crime and protecting the citizens of Chicago. He says everyone understands the need to get the job done as a team. "As in all big cities we have sophisticated gang organizations as well as the ever-present terrorist threat," Risley says. "We communicate effectively with the all public safety agencies and I can honestly say that egos don't play into the equation."

The grant gurus
     One of the people in charge of finding and securing funding from grants available to the Chicago PD for homeland security is Sgt. Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly works through the funding maze of UASI, Buffer Zone Protection Plan (BZPP), Port Security Zone (PSZ), with personnel from the research and development division, to locate funds available from DHS and other sources, such as foundation grants, to pay for requested equipment, services and upgrades. Grant applications are submitted with input from the requesting units and with the cooperation of other city agencies such as the Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communication.

     Total grant money received for homeland security purposes exceeds $47,280,000 for the City of Chicago/Cook County UASI, and $543,000 in 2006 BZPP money awarded for 2007. These funds are utilized by the police department, the Office of Emergency Management and Communication, Chicago Fire Department, the Chicago Health Department, the Department of Environment, and is shared with Cook County as well.

     O'Reilly looks at past success to produce future funding. "The continued success of Chicago's innovation and implementation is very helpful when applying for continuing grants. We produce the measurable results the DHS looks for when doling out money. Many of our projects have become national initiatives, it's hard to deny us funding with this kind of track record," he says.

     Once funds are secured, Sgt. Pat O'Malley keeps track of the UASI and other grant funding to make sure it's used to purchase the equipment for which it was intended. Teamwork is essential in keeping a constant flow of DHS funding.

Model fusion center
     One of the most sophisticated fusion centers in the world resides at Chicago PD headquarters. The Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC) helps address regional intelligence concerns. It opened in April 2007, funded with a $300,000 UASI grant.

     The CPIC is connected with other regional and national fusion centers, providing Chicago with a better means of interpreting threat levels and taking necessary action. All available technology and information is combined by the CPIC and gathered from crime reports, street cameras, plate recognition devices, drug and gang surveillance and traffic stops to provide investigators with instant, real-time information as they arrive on the scene.

     For example, an officer responding to a gang disturbance call will instantly receive information about the recent arrests made on the street, 911 calls within the last 30 days, names of those released on parole who reside in the area, registered sex offenders, stolen vehicle information, domestic violence incidents and confiscated weapons.

     David Sobczyk, commander of the Deployment Operations Center, considers this to be a new era in policing. "We like to refer to our intelligence gathering as pre-April 2007 and post-April 2007. That's how powerful CPIC is."

     Another intelligence-based application is the District Intelligence Bulletin System (DIBS), and provides an enforcement road map.

     Sobczyk views this tool as a predictor of gang and violence activity. "We can look at information about stolen vehicles, domestic violence calls or shots fired, and reliably predict where the next round of violence will occur," he says. "We then deploy units to the target area to be a deterrent or to be on scene as soon as possible after an incident."

Security from above
     When the cameras have flashing blue lights and display the Chicago police star, there is no mistaking: the area is under video surveillance.

     Another groundbreaking technology is visible on the light posts and rooftops of Chicago. Police Observation Devices (POD) are installed in high-crime areas and other areas identified as potential targets based on crime assessment and community input.

     According to Jonathan Lewin, commander of the Information Services Division of the Chicago PD, the idea for POD cameras came from officers within the department.

     "They came up with the concept and original design," Lewin says.

     He says multiple funding sources are used to support the POD cameras such as local, state and federal and including the City of Chicago corporate funding. Funds also come from narcotics seizures, asset forfeiture funds, purchases from the aldermanic funds, state legislative grants for school safety and federal Project Safe Neighborhoods funds.

     "The public's continuing and growing demand for cameras has inspired us to explore multiple funding sources to keep up with demand," Lewin says. "As the number of cameras deployed increases, so does their success."

     Lewin notes the Chicago PD has been specifically tracking POD-related arrests since February. Over 1,300 people have been arrested during tactical missions directly supported by PODs.

     "Many arrests are for narcotics-related activity, but offenders engaged in other crimes, ranging from aggravated battery to homicide, have been identified, arrested and prosecuted with assistance from PODs," Lewin says.

     Similarly, the Buffalo Grove, Illinios-based RMS Technology Solutions Inc. has gained national media attention for its version of the POD system, called PODSS, or Portable Overt Digital Surveillance System. This unique system has been attributed to a dramatic drop in violent crime in inner cities, typically associated with drug and gang activity.

     After seven months in use, the City of Chicago reported emergency calls dropped by more than 70 percent in the neighborhoods where PODSS were installed, and the rate of serious crime dropped 17 percent. The number of PODSS systems installed in Chicago will exceed 500 by the end of the year.

     "We've helped Chicago build out one of the most impressive wireless meshed networks in the world," says Rick Rubenstein, president and founder of RMS Technology Solutions Inc.

     Rubenstein says wireless PODSS cameras capture and record full-motion, high-resolution video and send it real-time to operation centers where police can dispatch officers to the scene. Officers on the street control the PODSS with a laptop and instantly respond to a crime.

     Rubenstein adds, "The beauty of this system is that it is truly portable. The PODSS can be quickly moved to new crime hot spots. You can't easily do that with a fixed wire system."

     According to Rubenstein, the Chicago police have enabled PODSS cameras for gunshot detection and license plate recognition, and notes this is the largest integration project of its kind.

     "The data we have been gathering on the effectiveness of the various systems represents the most comprehensive comparative study to date," he says.

     "The City of Chicago's significant investment in public safety has made it a model example for urban centers around the country to follow."

A watchful 'Eye'
     Chicago-based EyeNet Enforcement Systems offers technology that can read license plates from video captured by the POD cameras. The camera and license plate reader system is approximately $10,000, and can be used with an existing camera. Some PODs are programmed to point in the direction provided by gunshot sensors and link with EyeNet's license plate reader system.

     Tom Tarach, CEO of EyeNet, says there were challenges with the implementation.

     "This had never been done before, but the Chicago Police Department was determined to make it work," Tarach says. "With a few tweaks and adjustments we found we had a working system that could scan license plates from a video stream."

     Tarach adds the Chicago police now have two EyeNet readers which can easily process real-time video streams from any of the city's wireless POD cameras.

Intelligence-gathering tech
     CLEAR (Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis & Reporting) has taken inter-agency cooperation to new levels in and around Chicago. CLEAR is now used by 411 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. In 2007 the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department was added as the first agency in the state of Minnesota to participate in CLEAR. Chicago's information sharing system has received national attention and has been selected for examination and analysis in the National Institute of Justice funded study entitled "Comprehensive Regional Information Sharing Systems."

     Catherine Kolb, director of development for the Chicago PD's Information Services Division, knows CLEAR is only as good as the information going in. "Every one of our databases has to be made searchable. Every bit of information we gather - arrest reports, federal intelligence, gang affiliation, traffic violations - must be retrievable by easy search methods, otherwise it's not valuable."

     Lewin is also is determined to associate every gathering system into CLEAR. "We are now at a point where everything an officer observes on the street and every piece of information he or she inputs is immediately available to everyone using CLEAR."

     Lewin also installed Info-Cop on 30 Blackberry devices. "Info-Cop improves officer and public safety by enabling real-time, interdepartmental tracking of summons or warnings issued on the system," he says.

     According to Lewin, officers can use the Blackberry devices independently, without having to go back to the vehicle to access the computer in the car.

     "Officers on foot or conducting missions have access to a huge database of information on wanted people or vehicles, gang offenders, crime patterns and previous police stops - it'll result in more crimes being solved and smarter policing."

A safe harbor
     Lt. Christopher Kennedy, commanding officer of the Chicago PD's marine unit protects the busy Chicago harbors and over 800,000 registered boat owners. Recently purchased with $225,000 in Port Security Grant funding is the M-5, a SAFE Boats International high-performance hull design vessel.

     SAFE Boats supplies military and law enforcement vessels to agencies around the world. Its patented underwater fin technology maximizes stability and maneuverability even in high seas.

     In addition to shoreline patrol, the marine unit is also responsible for the sensitive freshwater intake crib security - where much of the Midwest's water supply originates. In 2006 and 2007, the Chicago PD's marine unit purchased an underwater remote control camera for inspecting hulls and searching for submerged objects, sophisticated 3D sonar scanning devices, and an ice rescue truck.

     With additional input from Chicago police and years of product evolution, SAFE Boats developed a multi-mission platform to fit the Chicago PD's needs.

     "We work hand in hand with our customers to build the tool to fit their specific demands," says Scott Peterson, SAFE Boats president. "This, combined with a high-performance hull, creates a state-of-the-art, cost-effective, homeland security vessel."

Looking ahead
     Grant funding is a resource for police departments across the country to obtain more equipment and provide more services for citizens.

     The challenge of policing Chicago with vigilance in an era of terrorist threats is growing more complex every day. Chicago is a target-rich city with centers of finance, commerce, transportation, freight, and national landmarks and requires the implementation of technological advances throughout the police department.

     Attention to upcoming innovations is something that Chicago's police are eager to adopt.

     Because Chicago is a contender city for the 2016 Olympics, Mayor Daley and Chicago PD officials are looking ahead to keep it one of the safest cities in the country. They are working diligently to involve communities and address issues to resolve any differences. When crime is down, citizens are happy, and more funding and resources available for the Chicago PD ultimately means more protection to keep the peace on the streets of the Windy City.

Specialized vehicles, equipment and units
     Nowhere can the dedication to protecting citizens and investigating crime be more evident than the in the careful selection of specialized vehicles used by Chicago police in everyday and emergency situations. These special vehicles are used regularly and include:

  • Bomb and arson - $406,000 (UASI) Bomb Disposal Unit, Robots, Bomb Scanning Devices, Radiation Detection devices
  • Forensic services - $175,000 (UASI) Complete Mobile Forensic Truck
  • Special operations (SWAT) - $225,000 (UASI) BearCat Personnel Carrier and protective gear
  • Airport - $650,000 (combination Dept. of Aviation, and Buffer Zone) Bomb Disposal units, K-9 transport, K-9 Units for explosive detection. Immediate Incident Deployment Truck with SWAT gear, protective gear and crowd control devices.
  • Video Observation Vehicle (2005) transmits real-time video from any location
  • Satellite Truck - Equipped with a roof-top satellite, transmits high-speed video and data and the OEMC Microwave Truck
  • Automated License Plate readers (Concept Vehicle) read thousands of plates per hour and have recovered over 750 stolen vehicles.

     Linda Spagnoli is a law enforcement advocate in the areas of communication, child safety, officer safety and sex offender tracking. She may be reached at ljspagnoli@aol.com.