Social Network Analysis Targets Gangs in Chicago

The Chicago Police Department is actively pursuing means to combat and reduce endemic violence and is currently on track with the lowest recorded number of murders since 1965. Other significant index crimes including aggravated battery and robbery are also significantly lowered.

The strategic intelligence initiative of the Chicago Police Department includes the use of social network analysis tools to better understand the fracturing and ‘balkanization’ of street gangs in relation to violent crime. Researchers who are working closely on the issue determined that social networks  are the key predictor in whether an individual will become a victim of firearm-related homicide (Papachristos and Wildeman, 2013).

The technical tool behind the scenes was developed for use by law enforcement by the  U.S. Military Academy at West Point and is called the Organizational, Relationship and Contact Analyzer (ORCA).  ORCA is a derivative visual link analysis tool originally adapted to combat terrorism and insurgency.

The powerful algorithms contained in this tool when applied to arrest, contact and link data-sets can determine individual gang membership and further identifies key persons and influential members within gang networks. In turn, the data is represented visually to support analysis and a better understanding of those gang networks and the nexus to violence. It furthers enables the fast identification of critical persons for treatment and targeting under a strategy of focused deterrence.

Focused deterrence aims at using conventional law enforcement tools in conjunction with non-law enforcement community and social service organization methods to approach identified high-risk individuals for treatment (Author, meetings 2013; Braga and Weisburd 2012).

Chicago Police researcher John Bertetto believes that a ‘missing piece’ of community policing practices may be residing within the use of link analysis when applied to ‘counter-gang’ work. The fusion of tools and lessons learned from our military experience with counterinsurgency or COIN within the broad approach of focused deterrence strategy for policing may be a winning solution for the problem of violence and gangs in Chicago.


About the Author: Aaron Cunningham is the acting President of the International Tactical Training Association


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