Baltimore Cops Get Connected

By John McCormick Print this article Print

Online exclusive: The Baltimore City Police Department overhauled its infrastructure to keep its officers in touch. The result: a significant drop in crime.

Police sergeant David Rosenblatt cruises downtown Baltimore, as he deals with property thefts, burglaries, and, on occasion, aggravated assaults.

Rosenblatt doesn't have a partner in his patrol car; yet he never feels like he's riding alone.

The Baltimore City Police Department has connected Rosenblatt and the other 3,000 members of its force to a sophisticated network of computer and communications equipment that keeps its cops in constant touch with each other, and provides a wealth of intelligence about the calls they're assigned to handle—information that improves both their safety and their ability to fight crime.

And Baltimore's cops are extremely proficient crime fighters. From 1999 to 2001, police cut crime in Baltimore by 20.6%—a reduction unmatched by any law enforcement agency in the country. By comparison, the New York Police Department, not counting deaths associated with Sept. 11, reduced crime 13.2% during the same 24-month period.

Patrol officers in New York count themselves lucky if they're assigned a car with a working mobile data terminal (MDT), allowing them to check New York State motor vehicle database and the FBI's National Crime Information Center—a repository of data on stolen property, fugitives and missing persons. By contrast, Rosenblatt's Ford Crown Victoria is equipped with a new laptop that's as muscled up as his car.

Rosenblatt's in-dash Panasonic Toughbook computer receives computer-aided dispatches over a wireless network. The laptop presents the complaint and the street address. No need for the officer to spend precious seconds writing anything down.

Then, the unit automatically displays vital background information from a number of state and city databases, including Maryland's intrastate law enforcement (MILE) database. MILE is a collection of misdemeanor and civil complaint histories that are tapped to give officers information on people and locations, including whether a resident at the address they're responding to ever filed a restraining order, threatened a public official or possessed drugs or a deadly weapon.

Officers now know what they're getting into before they arrive on a scene and can take precautionary steps to protect themselves. They're also more likely to be on the alert for, say, gun or drug stashes, allowing them to prevent possible future crimes. "We armed our officers with information," says John Pignataro, chief of the department's information and technology division. "If they're armed with information, they have an advantage."

And with the installation of new software from Aether Systems in August, Rosenblatt and other BCPD officers can send information on robberies, burglaries, and other calls from their cars to headquarters. There, the data can be collected and analyzed in real-time by intelligence officers—enabling the department to marshal resources and plan strategies to deal with daily crime patterns. Or, possibly, a terrorist attack.

"We're really taking great strides. I don't see other police departments doing what we're doing," Rosenblatt says. The technology initiative began early in the spring of 2000 with the appointment of Pignataro, a former New York Police Department detective sergeant with a computer science degree, as its commanding officer.

This article was originally published on 2002-09-09
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