Chicago police found off-duty officer slain 30 minutes after receiving pinpoint accurate ShotSpotter alert, radio traffic shows

CHICAGO — Officials have released no new details about what they believe led up to the fatal shooting of a young Chicago police officer as she returned home from work early Saturday.

Among the many questions that will be asked in the days ahead is this: Why did it take the Chicago Police Department 30 minutes to respond and locate the officer after a ShotSpotter registered shots fired at the exact address where she was found lying in a yard?

Here’s the latest in the tragic death of Officer Areanah Preston, 24, who joined CPD three years ago and had just finished working her shift in a Far South Side police district.

Investigation underway

Police have not publicly spoken about what they think happened as Preston arrived home in the 8100 block of South Blackstone around 1:42 a.m.

Areanah Preston | LinkedIn

The Sun-Times reported that Preston was shot during a robbery, and her gun was taken.

In fact, CPD recently warned residents in the local police districts about three armed robberies that occurred late on April 28. Those robberies involved a group of masked and armed men who targeted victims as they exited their vehicles.

Ring surveillance video of one of the April 28 robberies began circulating online Saturday with false claims that it showed the moments before Preston was attacked.

A ShotSpotter recording of the gunfire, provided to CWBChicago by a source, appears to have captured three individual gunshots in quick succession followed by a short round of automatic fire.

Late Saturday afternoon, Chicago police located the getaway car that investigators had linked to Preston’s murder. The red Kia, stolen from the 4700 block of South Indiana, was found burned in the 7200 block of South Eberhart, according to a law enforcement source.

30 minutes

CPD radio transmissions show that police first learned of gunfire at the address where Preston was killed 30 minutes before officers found her. What happened? That’s something city leaders will need to answer.

But here’s what the radio activity reveals:

At 1:09 Saturday morning, a police dispatcher went on air to read off a list of pending assignments in the South Chicago (4th) District. He read off 26 calls, some hours old, waiting for officers to handle.

Later, at 1:43 a.m., an officer in a neighboring district radioed that they heard “like a burst” of gunfire to their south.

Moments after that, an officer in the 4th District came on the air. He said a ShotSpotter gunfire detector registered nine shots fired at the exact address where Preston was later found. The dispatcher repeated the information, but no officers were assigned to investigate the ShotSpotter information.

Three minutes later, an officer asked if any calls had been received about a person who had been shot. None had, the dispatcher confirmed.

Then, at 2:02 a.m., the dispatcher reported that an Apple Watch had alerted to a traffic accident at the address right next door to the one that ShotSpotter had provided. Apple Watches can be set to call for help if they detect movement that they believe resembles a car crash. But it can misinterpret other actions, such as falling down, as a crash, according to some owners we spoke with.

With that information, the dispatcher assigned the Apple Watch call to a patrol car and advised them of the ShotSpotter information, too. An officer advised that they were on their way but were not close by.

Finally, at 2:15 a.m., the assigned officer jumped on the radio to declare an emergency: an off-duty officer had been shot at the Blackstone location.

“It’s not looking good. Get an ambulance here now,” the officer radioed. A minute later, he advised that rather than wait for an ambulance, they would take Preston to the hospital in their squad car.

We’ll have to see what city officials say about the time between the ShotSpotter alert and the officer’s discovery of Preston.

One data point to consider: The 4th District is currently staffed by 294 officers. That’s 100 fewer cops than when Lori Lightfoot was sworn in four years ago, according to the Chicago Office of Inspector General.

Remembrances and statements

Preston’s father, Allen, spoke with the Sun-Times.

“She was trying to make a change on this Earth. It’s unforgivable, in my eyes,” he told the paper. “This was my baby, everything I did was for her … I don’t know what to do right now … I’ll be dealing with this for the rest of my life.”

Preston was to graduate from Loyola University next Saturday with a master’s degree in child and family law, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The paper spoke with Charles Bell, one of Preston’s undergrad professors:

“She was a very bright student with the whole world ahead of her,” he said. “And it’s heartbreaking to see someone who’s so passionate and so dedicated, so young, who’s interested in reform, interested in creating a better world, lose her life at 24.”

During a press conference outside the University of Chicago Hospital, Lightfoot’s eyes teared up as she spoke about the shooting: “It’s unfortunate that we’re standing here again today to talk about another tragedy that has befallen one of our bravest citizens …No mother wants to wake up to the tragic news that their child is dead. And dead to something as awful and tragic as gunfire.”

Lightfoot encouraged Chicagoans to thank police officers when they see them on the job.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson released this statement:

This is a profound tragedy, and my heart breaks for the family of the young officer who was murdered early this morning on her way home from work. I’m outraged and devastated by this horrific violence against a public servant, and I will do everything I can to support her family and the Chicago Police Department through this traumatic time. I pray that her killer is apprehended quickly so that justice may be served.

That a public servant was killed in the middle of the night underlines the fierce urgency of the public safety crisis in our city. My top priority is building a better, stronger, safer Chicago where all our residents can live and work free from the threat of violence.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com