President Barack Obama's traffic safety chief visited Towson on Thursday, praising Baltimore County police for their use of data to drive down traffic collisions and crime.
David L. Strickland, chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the tactics employed by Baltimore County police are a model for agencies across the country — including the U.S. Department of Justice.
"We're using Baltimore County as a gold standard," Strickland said.
In 2009, Baltimore County became one of seven jurisdictions in the country to begin using a program called Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety — known as DDACTS. The program helps deploy officers to targeted areas in an effort to cut down on car crashes and crime.
The theory behind the program is that by mapping crashes, police can learn which areas are most likely to have problems and station officers in a "highly visible" way to deter speeding and distracted driving.
Similar tactics are used in high-crime areas, police said. Crime and traffic prevention efforts are effective together, Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson said, because vehicles are often used in the commission of crimes.
Since the program was introduced in 15 "hot spot" areas in 2009, burglaries have dropped in those areas by 21 percent and robberies by 33 percent, Johnson said.
"Technology is playing a critical role in public safety today in Baltimore County," Johnson said.
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. pointed out that nearly 34,000 people died in car crashes last year in the United States. He said residents of Baltimore County are much more likely to be killed in car crashes than in violent crimes, but the program has helped reduce crashes.
"DDACTS has made Baltimore County a safer place," he said.
Strickland presented his agency's highest honor, the NHTSA Public Service Award, to Johnson on behalf of the Obama administration.
"They've taken a concept that was theoretical and made it real," Strickland said.