Two foot soldiers in President Bush's drug war came to Towson yesterday to examine a new weapon -- a computer that plots Baltimore County's worst drug neighborhoods.
They left impressed.
"I really like the program," said Severin L. Sorensen, a special assistant in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House. "This is a very positive approach to using technology to help limited resources go further."
The computer program, called the Substance Abuse Tracking System (SATS), takes the locations of drug arrests and complaints, and areas with the most people in drug treatment programs, and converts the information into maps county officials use to direct enforcement and treatment efforts.
Mr. Sorensen and Patricia A. Casal, also a special assistant in the drug program, met with county police and drug treatment officials for more than three hours yesterday. Mike Gimbel, head of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, said the program began three years ago with a $100,000 federal grant that county officials used to buy a computer and specialized software.
To maintain the confidentiality of clients who use the county's five drug treatment centers, a computer operator deletes their names and then groups the people into general categories, such as people ages 20 to 30 who use cocaine and live in a certain census tract.
"We have to maintain client confidentiality," Mr. Gimbel said. "Confidentiality is the backbone of drug treatment. Without it, you can have no counseling."
County police take the general information and combine it with locations of recent drug arrests and recent phone complaints about drug dealing.
Yesterday, Christine Yeich, a Police Department statistical analyst who works on the computer program, punched a few keys and brought up a computer map showing county census tracts with the most cocaine arrests for June and July.
"On the east side, it seems that marijuana is more prevalent, while on the west side, cocaine and heroin are more prevalent. But there's cocaine and heroin on the east side, too," she said. "It is interesting that our highest drug markets also have the highest number of people in treatment. So, while there is drug dealing going on, there are people there trying to get help."
Though other jurisdictions have made similar efforts, Mr. Sorensen said he's heard of no other that combines treatment data with police data. The Baltimore County program could be used as a model for other jurisdictions, he said.