Baltimore police invest in new tech to bring crime stats down

BALTIMORE - The start of 2014 was decidedly violent and bloody in Baltimore.

The city logged 26 murders, well above its historical average for January—a trend that put police Commissioner Anthony Batts and his plan for this police department in focus.

Read More: New crime-fighting technology comes to Baltimore

"Whether we take pressure or not take pressure, we're not moving off of our concepts and off of our strategy.  It works, we know it works and we're going to stay with it,” Batts said.

The homicide rate has since slowed since January.

THURSDAY @ 11 p.m. ABC2 NEWS gets an inside look at the tools police are using to bring the crime rate down. 

Whether that drop is the residue of design is still up for debate so close to the release of the department's strategic plan late last year. But it remains a plan Batts is betting on, a plan that covers a wide range of changes for the police department including how it operates.

"When you’re dealing with technology out of the 1980s in 2014, that is problematic.  When you're dealing with Lotus Notes, which I dealt with when I was in my early 20s, that's obscene and an organization like the BPD shouldn't be at that standard today," Batts said.

Modernizing the way the department gets its data and how it’s analyzed is a key pillar in the strategic plan, making the department more efficient, proactive and responsive by re-booting the concept of the “Watch Center.”

Go inside the Baltimore City Police Department Watch Center

“We're trying to figure out what is the best information, what's going to help us predict what is going on in the future and how do we collect that information and where should we put it and how can we use it.”

Nicole DeMotto is the department's Director of Analytical Intelligence in charge of the watch center's reboot .

One of the center's upgrades is microphones, a network of which that is in the process of being installed throughout East and West Baltimore. The omnidirectional recording devices can pinpoint when and where a shot is fired with accuracy down to 2 feet.

"So we will be able to hear the gun shot, send an officer before anyone even has the opportunity to call the police," DeMotto said.

Baltimore's gun detection will build on a small and separate pilot program that's already been up and running since September in just one neighborhood.

There, the microphones are connected to cameras.

In a recorded example, police showed how the camera will canvass as normal until it hears a gunshot.

"You'll see the camera goes to the right, it gets an alert,” said Lt. Sam Hood as he played a test for ABC2 News. “Now watch as he starts walking with the gun.  Pause it.  There you go. Perfect."

The video was of a test performed just before the launch of the pilot program in a South Baltimore neighborhood.

The gun was loaded with blanks, and neighbors were warned.

But a new contract with a different company will expand gunshot detection well into East and West Baltimore.

Baltimore police say the hope is to synchronize the audio of gun shots with the visibility from existing cameras.

Gunshot detection will provide unique data for Baltimore police and if working in concert with existing cameras, could help in developing suspects, but the technology upgrade is not just in the eyes and ears above us, it's in the lines between us. 

“It's probably not going to look like any other district boundaries that we've had in the past,” DeMotto said.

DeMotto illustrated another part of the commissioner's plan for ABC2: re-drawing police districts and posts.

They haven't been touched in nearly 35 years.

So analysts are currently in the process of using layers of data to draw a map that makes more sense.

No longer just population density and year to date crime counts, posts and districts will take advantage of neighborhood boundaries, most common types of crime that happen in a certain area, transportation and police resources.

“We're using a process that is completely different than what they had done in the past.  Most of the time we took a look at calls for service and violent crime and that's it, but in order to make sufficient boundaries and boundaries that are suitable to everybody, we have to include a lot more sources than we had in the past,” DeMotto said.

It is a pain-staking process that will take a few more months before the first draft is ready. Until then, DeMotto's staff is surveying Baltimore with 21st century tools—the same tools Batts is certain will improve the policing trade.       

"You have to sharpen the organization and make it more efficient, that we run faster, quicker, smarter than what we have done in the past," Batts said.

Hoping the technology of tomorrow can help create some distance from the headlines of today.

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