The cops and the politicians talked about gangs and guns, about combining disparate databases from law enforcement agencies spread across the state, allowing police to track offenders of all types and quickly spot trends.
Through a program called Dashboard, put together by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, there are ways to pinpoint on maps people convicted of gun crimes, on probation, on lists of sex abusers, and those wanted on arrest warrants.
There's facial recognition software that allows cops in Maryland to compare surveillance photos to a database containing 2.1 million mug shots.
It looks impressive on a computer screen. The challenge is to get it into the field.
That's just what Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III told Gov. Martin O'Malley during a forum Thursday on guns and gang violence. The data and the maps can help a police officer know the criminals. But, the commissioner said, "if we don't introduce him to the bad guy," then it's all just talk.
Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson expressed similar concerns. He said that in his department, it was mostly detectives who used the database. "The system has to be used by officers on the street," he said.
The forum at the American Brewery building in East Baltimore was led by O'Malley, who wants police departments to do a better job of sharing information. The governor questioned whether departments using different report forms and different types of e-mail servers can effectively collate data.
Talking about the limited number of violent offenders responsible for a vast amount of crime, O'Malley reminded the group, "We know who they are. We have their photos. We have been in contact with them five, six, seven, eight, who knows how many times. … The worst thing we can do with this information is sit on it."
One new program going online soon will allow police to get warrants in real-time. "How many times has a warrant been issued for somebody who goes out and commits a murder before the warrant can be served?" O'Malley asked.
With the new program, police will be able to see the warrants on a computer screen — and maybe even on the Blackberry "pocket cops" that city police officers have — within minutes of a judge's signing the paperwork. No more waiting for the document to go from the courthouse to the police station to the officer.
But that's not all. Authorities at the forum showed how the mapping program can pinpoint people wanted on crimes throughout the city, and what the charges are, and can be sorted by address, name or types of crime. A police officer assigned to a neighborhood could quickly pull up a map of every wanted person living there.
It's clear from the forum that police agencies have access to tons of information pulled together in real time from myriad databases. They know the names of the 1,383 people convicted of gun crimes in the city since Jan. 2008, and that 689 of them are now in jail and that 147 of them now live in Baltimore County. Commanders get an instant e-mail as soon as anyone on the gun registry list is re-arrested.
The agencies know who is on probation and for what, and they know when the offenders get into trouble and which ones to scrutinize. For O'Malley, this data is invaluable as part of efforts to hold government accountable by the numbers and put dots on a map.
But for Bealefeld, the challenge is to marry the data to the human intelligence ferreted out on the street, and get it into the hands of the cops that matter — the ones in the patrol cars and in the neighborhoods. "You can get lost in the data," the commissioner told the governor. "You can get lost in the map."