Pugh, De Sousa tout violence reductions, outline summer plans for predictive policing

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Mayor Catherine Pugh, right, and Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa address the media on April 4, 2018. Screengrab via Facebook Live.

Violent crime in Baltimore is down 19 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the same period last year, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced at her weekly press conference.

Homicides are down 25 percent in that time, and there’s been a similar drop in shootings, which are down by 20 percent.

Property crime has also fallen, down 20 percent in the first three months of the year.

Pugh and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa also laid out plans they hope will continue reductions into the summer, including the expansion of the Safe Streets violence interruption program, the rollout of the anti-violence program Roca and the introduction of preventive crime measures such as data teams in East and West Baltimore, and sensors that triangulate gunshots.

The city’s top cop acknowledged that a lot prep work will be needed before the summer months, when crime typically spikes.

“We’re really excited [about] the mayor’s vision for us with technology and introducing it to the police department,” he said. “We’re really encouraged as we move forward. We know it’s going to be a challenge. We know the weather’s getting warm, the days are a little bit longer. We’re already prepping for June and July.”

Among the biggest changes will be the addition of the Strategic Decision Support Center in the Eastern and Western districts, the areas that generally have the most crime, covering five square miles. Both are scheduled to be fully operational by June 1.

De Dousa said analysts will use algorithms to determine where crime is most likely to occur. That information will be conveyed to officers during roll call, and they will then be dispatched to those locations during a specified timeframe, unless that is broken up by an emergency situation.

There will also be ShotSpotter sensors installed in the same areas that can triangulate gunfire. The analysts back at the stations will then be able dispatch officers to a specific location and pull up footage from the nearest CCTV camera.

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about similar predictive policing methods in the past, arguing that algorithms are built using biased data. The commissioner pledged to eventually share those algorithms.

“The bottom line is we need the community’s support in this,” he said. “We’re gonna let them know exactly what this is.”

Asked about the parallels with the movie “Minority Report,” the neo-noir set in a future where law enforcement arrests perpetrators before a crime even takes place, Pugh pointed to the gains made by the police departments in Los Angeles and Chicago.

“We’re modeling what we saw in L.A., what is now happening in Chicago, and so we’re modeling that in Baltimore,” she said. “As I said early on, one of the things that we’re looking at is best practices around the nation–what’s working, what kind of technology should we be employing that can help us along with the community engagement piece, along with creating a department that is engaged in the neighborhoods and with the community.”

Additionally, in the next several weeks the commissioner will deploy a unit of two sergeants and 14 officers in a mobile command center to function, in essence, as a roving police district that helps the other nine. He said the intersection of Bonaparte Avenue and Aiken Street, where a gun fight between two groups erupted yesterday, was an area that had just been discussed that morning.

“We know where the areas are that we need to strategically put resources, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said De Sousa. “We’re looking at areas, we’re looking at data. We know that history repeats itself.”

By July 1, Pugh also announced, Safe Streets, which has proven to decrease violent crime in the four areas where it currently exists, will expand by two or three new sites, and the Roca program, targeting young men ages 17 to 24 and connecting them with jobs, will launch.

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore Business Journal, b and others. Prior to joining Baltimore Fishbowl, he was an editor at City Paper from 2012 to 2017. He can be reached at [email protected]
Brandon Weigel


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