Maps of city crises expand

O'Malley looks to use technique to track different complaints

`Charts of the Future'

April 17, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Green and red dots pepper the Baltimore map draped on the Health Department wall, signifying lead paint housing violations.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and his Cabinet directors, however, see the computerized printout as the tip of a major milestone: the future of city service delivery in America.

The computerized mapping program -- pioneered by the city's new police consultants -- is being adapted to the health, public works, recreation and housing departments to make city government more efficient, O'Malley said.

The effort would make Baltimore the nation's first city to expand the process -- developed by former New York Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Maple -- to other agencies.

Maple, whom O'Malley recently recruited to help Baltimore reduce homicides, developed the computer maps -- known as ComStat -- to help track crime and channel police resources to the neediest areas. Maple calls it "putting the cops on the dots."

After watching city police commissioners employ the maps to hold commanders accountable for removing the dots, O'Malley suggested the program be expanded to other city agencies.

The mayor hopes that by mapping city recreation programs with juvenile arrests, city administrators will be able to tell where programs are most needed. By chronicling the success of drug-treatment centers, health officials will be able to determine which centers are struggling. By regularly mapping citizen trash complaints, public works supervisors can determine how best to target illegal dumping.

"What you're seeing here is a first," said Elliot Schlanger, the city's Chief Information Technology Officer, who is charged with implementing the program. "There is no model that the city of Baltimore is following. We're trying to invent something."

Baltimore, like most cities, relied during the past century on pen, paper and telephone to track complaints. Operators jotted down residents' problems and handed them to supervisors, a tedious process allowing many opportunities for lost complaints.

Under a new plan O'Malley is calling CityStat, computer designers will massage data already collected by the city to instantly track resident needs, ranging from lead violations to available treatment beds.

"The city is rich with data," Schlanger said. "We keep statistics on everything."

The lead effort, known as LeadStat, is the first application of the mayor's plan. During the past two months, city health officials have met with a task force consisting of city housing department officials and assistant state's attorneys to map and create a strategy to eradicate Baltimore's lead poisoning cases.

The lead concerns rose after stories in The Sun showed that more than 7,000 Baltimore children are being exposed annually to lead-paint dust and chips, with 1,200 being poisoned.

The computerized maps show where lead violations occur most and where outstanding violations exist. The task force meets every two weeks to discuss action taken to address the problems.

The city recently prosecuted 29 property owners, gaining agreements that landlords will clean or sell the sites while relocating tenants. The city expects to file 50 cases by the end of the month, said City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson.

"We literally go through every action item that [property owners agreed] was to take place and ensure that it happens," Beilenson said, standing over the map.

O'Malley envisions similar operations such as TrashStat, which would help the city target areas where residents report filth, or KidStat, which can track recreation programs. Beilenson is to begin DrugStat, a mapping program that will allow him to assess the availability and success rates of city-funded drug treatment centers.

The program also is expected to improve city computer operations, which two months ago were given poor marks by Governing magazine. Baltimore earned a C grade for its computer adequacy, slightly below the C+ average attained by 35 other cities studied.

Maple began his mapping program on pen and paper nearly 20 years ago, as a transit police officer in New York's subway. He began writing down crimes when and where they occurred. The wall-sized etchings became known as "Charts of the Future." Before long, he saw a pattern to the incidents that allowed him to direct police resources and reduce crime.

The method has been credited for helping reduce homicides in New York, New Orleans and Newark. The city has persuaded local businesses to pay Maple and his company, the Linder/Maple Group, $2,000 a day for their computer and management expertise.

"His investigative mind is phenomenal," Schlanger said of Maple, who directed all questions about the system to O'Malley's office.

The Stat process operates on the old premise that a picture is worth a thousand words, Schlanger said. When looking at the LeadStat map, health and housing officials noticed that few violations existed in Cherry Hill.

That's because much of the housing had been built after 1951, when the city banned lead paint in Baltimore housing.

"You could look through a pile of reports and never see this," Schlanger said.

The human element of managing -- using the maps to hold supervisors accountable -- remains critical to the process, making managerial skills as necessary as they were in the past, Schlanger said.

"This is just a tool," he said. "The computer on its own doesn't solve anything. Accountability is key."

Schlanger and other city officials say they hope to be able to create the maps so easily that the mayor and possibly residents citizens could call them up from their homes to get computer-generated snapshots of the state of their city.

"The key benefit is that it shows where to best concentrate city resources," Schlanger said. "And the job isn't finished until all the dots are gone."

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