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In an attempt to lower the crime and murder rates, police officers in Chicago have arrived at a unique solution – using a computer algorithm to predict crime. A police headquarters on Chicago’s South Side is now equipped with a control room where officers spend hours scanning digital maps on big screens to see where a crime is likely to happen next.

Chicago Police 7th District is using the system, called HunchLab, a predictive policing program made by Philadelphia-based company Azavea. According to, the system combines crime data with factors including the location of local businesses, the weather and socioeconomic information to forecast where crime might occur and the results help officers decide how to deploy resources. Another technology in use here is the Strategic Subject’s List, which is a database of individuals likely to be involved in shootings that was developed by the Illinois Institute of Technology.

While the police have not revealed how it is compiled, they have pointed out that the algorithm looks at eight factors including gang affiliation and prior drug arrests to assign people a number between 0 and 500, a higher number reflects higher risk.

According to reports, while commanders recognize the new tools can only be part of the solution, the number of shootings from January to July fell 39 percent compared with the same period last year. According to the department’s data, three other districts where the technology is fully operational have also seen between 15 percent and 29 percent fewer shootings, and 9 percent to 18 percent fewer homicides. Kenneth Johnson, the District commander said, “The community is starting to see real change in regards to violence.”

Addressing another dominant fear, Jonathan Lewin, chief of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Technical Services explained, “We’re not saying we can predict where the next shooting is going to occur. These are just tools. They are not going to replace officers.”

The techniques being used in Chicago’s 7th District’s control room is one of six such centers that have been opened since January.  The centers are part of a roughly $6 million experiment that is aimed at complementing traditional police work. Officials said that these centers are also part of a broader effort to overhaul the force of some 12,500 officers.

In Chicago, that faces an ever increasing crime rate, the recent spate of shootings over the Independence Day weekend saw 101 people being shot during a single period.