April 20, 2008 By Blake Harris
In a windowless room with walls dotted by TV screens and large computer monitors, a detective replays the sound of gunshots. It has been automatically detected and recorded miles away by a new gunfire detection system, one of many features available to Chicago's new Crime Prevention Information Center (CPIC). The gunshot detection system recognizes and tapes the sound of gunfire in the city's hot crime zones, and immediately alerts the center's staff, providing a street address through triangulation so police officers can investigate.
This system has already proven it can save lives. Early one morning, the system detected multiple gunshots in an alleyway. Investigating officers dispatched to the approximate location and found a wounded man lying in the street who told them his assailants fled before losing consciousness moments later.
"In the old days, it might not have been until the next day that the man would have been found - and he would have been dead. So quite literally, the system has already saved a life," said Chicago Police Cmdr. David Sobczyk, head of the Deployment Operations Center, of which CPIC is an extension.
CPIC is one of more than 40 "fusion" centers that state and local law enforcement launched in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As noted in a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, although elements of the information and intelligence fusion function was conducted prior to 9/11, by better integration of "the various streams of information and intelligence, including that [data] flowing from the federal government, state, local and tribal governments, as well as the private sector, a more accurate picture of risks to people, economic infrastructure and communities can be developed and translated into protective action."
The ultimate goal of a fusion center is to prevent terrorist attacks and to respond to natural disasters instantaneously should they occur. But as the CRS report noted, there is no one model for how a center should be organized. Although many of the centers initially had the singular goal of combating terrorism, most have moved toward broader all-crimes and all-hazards approaches.
"Data fusion involves the exchange of information from different sources - including law enforcement, public safety and the private sector - and, with analysis, can result in meaningful and actionable intelligence and information," according to a U.S. Department of Justice guidelines paper. "The fusion process turns this information and intelligence into actionable knowledge.
"Fusion also allows for relentless re-evaluation of existing data in context with new data in order to provide constant updates. The public safety and private-sector components are integral in the fusion process because they provide fusion centers with crime-related information, including risk and threat assessments, and subject-matter experts who can aid in threat identification."
According to Sobczyk, focusing on crime and terrorism, as CPIC does, strengthens the antiterrorism mission. Everyday crimes often are precursors to a terrorist attack; more importantly, having a center that responds 24/7 to real-life public safety incidents makes the center more prepared if a terrorist threat arises.
This combined focus is evident when you walk into the CPIC room. In addition to wall-mounted computer screens, there are televisions tuned to 24/7 news channels from both the United States and other countries, such as Israel, China and the Arab states.
Approximately 30 full-time staff members - detectives, police officers and supervisors - work at CPIC. As events warrant, each of the 35 suburban departments that work with the center lends officers to help field calls for information. In addition, representatives from the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff's Chief and other federal agencies also provide liaison personnel to the center as needed.
While it continues to evolve, CPIC - built for $1 million funded through a combination of sources, including a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant, Chicago Police's operational budget, as well as seized drug