Putting the Cops on the Dots


Former New York crime savant Jack Maple was riding with then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley through one of that city’s poorest, crime-ridden and drug plagued neighborhoods playing a game he called “spot the cop.”

Under the rules, the first person to see a police car in the blighted African American neighborhood won a drink. The men, however, travelled thirsty proving that Baltimore police underserved poor black neighborhoods where murders were highest.

Maple was a lowly New York subway cop in the early 1990s when train stops he supervised became targets for cashier robberies. Frustrated, he hung large poster paper on his tiny office wall calling them “the charts of the future.”

His strategy was simple: mark where and when the robberies occur and put undercover police officers in place to stop them. Subway crime plummeted.

Maple’s innovation earned him a meteoric rise to deputy police commissioner, where he turned the paper charts into a computer mapping program he called CompStat. The electronic maps were projected onto giant screens with red dots showing where violent crimes such as robberies, assaults and murders occurred.

New York police leaders began “putting the cops on the dots” employing more officers in high crime areas. The results were astonishing. New York recorded 1,946 murders in 1993. Last year? 289.

Soon after being elected the 36-year-old Baltimore mayor in 1999, O’Malley reached out to Maple to help his city, which suffered more than 300 murders a year for 10 years straight, 3,000 dead residents.

As Maple and O’Malley rode through Baltimore, the mayor wondered.

“Hey Jack,” he said. “Could we use the CompStat process for other city services?”

“Anything Mr. Mayor,” Maple replied.

“Vacant housing?” O’Malley asked.

“Anything.”

“Lead paint poisoning?”

“Anything.”

Thus, was born CitiStat, a pioneering computer driven data collection program that monitored Baltimore city services and dragged American government into the 21st Century. Buying off the shelf computers and hiring several young technocrats, O’Malley created a Starship Enterprise in a vacant conference room on top of City Hall, complete with wall sized video screens.

Every two weeks, department leaders stood before a firing squad of city administrators at a horseshoe table answering a barrage of seemingly ceaseless questions: Why is the sanitation department overtime in the northeast so high? How come west side alleys aren’t getting cleaned? Why are there so many vacant cars in East Baltimore?

Within the first year, O’Malley saved Baltimore $13 million by discovering inefficiencies while improving city service response times. Murders, mostly involving young black men in the drug trade, dropped below 300 for the first time in a decade to 262 before reaching a low of 207 six years later.

In his new book, Smarter Government: How to Govern for Results in the Information Age, O’Malley has laid out how to use computer driven data to produce more efficient government.

Unlike politicians who write “aren’t I special” memoirs, O’Malley has crafted a workbook for elected officials and government administrators.

Giving proper credit to Maple, who succumbed to cancer, O’Malley lays out the four principles of using data to improve government services:

  • All departments sharing timely, accurate information.

  • rapidly deploying city resources.

  • employing effective tactics and strategies.

  • And relentlessly following up to assess the response.

O’Malley even includes a web site, smartergovernment.com, that contains GIS mapping data exercises for officials on issues such as education and environmental cleanup.

After being elected Maryland governor in 2006, O’Malley took his computer management to the state, employing the data driven tools in efforts such as BayStat, which helped clean up the nitrogen-soaked Chesapeake Bay by cutting the pollution in half.

O’Malley’s book is gaining praise from government watchers such as Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“In addition to addressing specific issues of streets, air quality, education and crime, he shows us how to combine governing, leading and managing,” Goldsmith said.


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