The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) is trying to spread a little "gadget envy" among the state's law enforcement agencies to encourage better use of crime analysis programs. By handing out free crime-mapping programs and training as incentive, the council hopes to strengthen crime analysis strategies and, ultimately, reduce crime.
A 1999 survey of Maryland law enforcement agencies found that out of more than 150 agencies, fewer than 30 had some kind of crime-mapping program. In an effort to increase that number, the BMC landed a grant of nearly $99,000 from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention that will provide six agencies with the equipment and training they need to develop crime-mapping strategies. In turn, the agencies will be required to train at least two employees on the system and submit monthly reports on the status of the program.
"Hopefully by providing them with the software, the hardware and the training to do this, these departments are going to start to use this tool and realize how powerful a tool it is," said Marce Scarbrough, information systems manager for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
"We're hoping that once these departments, which are spread across the state, start using this, we'll get demands from other departments for the equipment and training," he said. "Our answer is going to be, 'Yes, here you go.'"
BMC accepted the Byrne grant, which was awarded to Maryland by the federal government, developed a curriculum for training and picked a few smaller agencies in which to implement the program. Thus far, only larger agencies have the crime-mapping technology because the software and training were expensive and difficult for small-to-midsize agencies to implement. That's not the case anymore, according to Scarbrough.
"It's affordable; the technology is fairly easy to use. They're just not using it, and we're trying to eliminate the excuses," he said. "Any department with your average PC and officers who are willing to invest a day or two can be producing crime maps like your big departments [in] New York are doing."
Crime Data Vacuum
Typically, crime analysis data fails to trickle down to where it's really needed: the officer on the beat. By enticing law enforcement agencies to take advantage of the program and implement their own specific crime analysis systems, BMC and the governor's office anticipate that better crime analysis data and better use of that data will result.
In a local program started in the mid-1990s, called the Comprehensive Communities/Hotspots program, agencies work with the public on locating "hot" crime areas. As part of the requirement for receiving grant money, they submit the data to the state. But that data is not being used effectively as a crime-fighting tool.
"That's one of the biggest problems now with the crime analysis field. How do we get this information out to the patrol officers?" said Cynthia Lum, a Baltimore police officer and crime analysis consultant, who is helping to train the agencies on the new system. "As a patrol officer, I understand the need. As a crime analyst, I understand the gap between the analytical people and the operational [patrol] people."
Lum said that, traditionally, crime analysis units worked for the police commissioner or the chief, and officers on the streets were a little suspect because they weren't privy to the inside information. As more agencies involve patrol officers in actual crime mapping and crime analysis programs, that suspicion wanes and the information becomes useful.
As a group, patrol officers tend to be younger with less experience than detectives, and so crime analysis is especially beneficial to these officers. "Police officers tend to patrol randomly. With this they can direct their patrol in such a way that's more intelligent," Lum said.