$5M Grant to Bolster Baltimore’s Policing Tech

Bloomberg Philanthropies is donating millions to upgrade the city’s crime-fighting technology.

by Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun / December 4, 2017
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(TNS) — Bloomberg Philanthropies is donating $5 million to help the Baltimore Police Department enhance crime-fighting technology — including buying more surveillance cameras, gun-shot detection software and license plate readers.

The grant money will go to purchase 60 new Citiwatch surveillance cameras, 25 new mobile license plate readers and gunshot detection software to cover 10 miles of East and West Baltimore, city officials said.

“Equipping our police officers with the tools they need to fight and solve crime is a critical component of our violence reduction strategy,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement. “This grant will help provide state-of-the-art equipment to our police force to ensure the safety of our city’s citizens and visitors.”

The 60 new surveillance cameras will be installed on light poles, expanding upon the city’s system of 750 fixed cameras.

Drew Vetter, director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, said city officials are currently deciding where to place the new cameras by comparing maps of where the most crime occurs with maps of the camera system.

“This will allow us to fill in those blind spots that exist currently,” he said.

The 25 additional mobile license plate readers will be installed on patrol cars, enabling real-time alerts and capturing investigative data, city officials said. This technology helps identify stolen cars and other vehicles of interest.

The gunshot-detection software will cover 10 square miles and expand upon an existing pilot program with the state. The software helps police quickly respond to shootings before 911 is called and alerts police to gunshots that they otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

Baltimore police had balked at buying gunshot-detection software in 2008, calling the technology unreliable. But Vetter says it has improved in the past decade.

“I know significant improvements have been made and more cities have embraced this as a valuable crime-fighting tool,” he said.

Baltimore is reeling from a surge in violent crime, and the mayor said she reached out to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for help.

“We made a request,” Pugh said. “I’m glad he honored this request.”

A Bloomberg spokeswoman said the organization is “proud to support these public safety efforts in Baltimore.”

The number of homicides in Baltimore this year has soared above 300 for a third straight year. Carjackings have jumped by 32 percent since last year. The city is on pace to end 2017 with more than 1,000 shootings.

Pugh has released an anti-violence plan that calls for sending more police out on patrol and improving police training and technology. She is seeking to hire hundreds more officers after her predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, cut about 400 positions from the budget during her tenure.

“We need to have 3,000 officers on the street,” Pugh said.

City officials said they expected the new technology to be in use in the first half of next year.

Bloomberg has frequently made donations to Baltimore institutions — including his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins University, to which he’s donated $1.5 billion over the years, the most any living benefactor has given to a single educational institution.

Along with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg dropped a $10 million donation to fund a small-business initiative in Baltimore for the next five years. That came on the heels of a three-year, $1.5 million grant to City Hall to help reduce violence in Baltimore.

Earlier this year, Pugh announced Baltimore was selected for Bloomberg's Innovation Team program. The city will receive as much as $500,000 annually for three years.

Pugh has tasked the Innovation Team with finding ways to ensure the city attracts police recruits, hires them more quickly and retains them.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he was “extremely pleased” with the latest donation.

“One of the most common requests I receive from my constituents is for more vigilance and more cameras in our neighborhoods,” he said in a statement.

©2017 The Baltimore Sun Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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