Baltimore’s mayor and top police commander shared their game plan to avoid the so-called “flash mob” incidents that have hit other cities in recent months.
Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took a late-evening walk on Friday along Baltimore’s harbor to go over the law enforcement strategy for the city’s downtown area now that the weather is turning warmer and tourism and nightlife are picking up.
Technology plays an increasingly crucial role in the city’s enforcement strategy, I-Team lead investigative reporter Jayne Miller said, and the goal is to avoid a repeat of the string of unprovoked assaults in the downtown area last year and the unruly youth gatherings that have hit other cities.
The youth gatherings known as “flash mobs” are organized through social networking. Philadelphia and Kansas City have both had to deal with flash mob incidents.
“I don’t want what’s happening in some other cities, where you have these mobs of young people unfortunately causing havoc in business districts. We can’t afford that. Our tourism industry is too important and our harbor area is too important for our residents,” Rawlings-Blake said.
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The city’s counting on its expanding use of technology. There are now 500 cameras positioned around the city that are monitored 24/7.
On Friday night, one camera focused on two men apparently breaking into a car, Miller reported, and another helped officers track down a man wanted in connection with a street crime.
“The cameras are going to beat the cops there, more often than not,” Bealefeld said.
“We have these cameras and capable people using them in coordination with officers on the street. We make sure the window of opportunity for that type of shenanigan is really reduced,” Rawlings-Blake said.
“I don’t want what’s happening in some other cities, where you have these mobs of young people unfortunately causing havoc in business districts. We can’t afford that.”
– Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
She said the cameras help because you can spot a problem right away.
“You can see down to what kind of purse someone is carrying. It’s good information we’re getting,” the mayor said.
The camera system has been paired up with Google maps to allow faster access to the camera closest to a call for service. A new database is also being used to allow a faster match between a suspect being sought and someone spotted in the camera’s view, officials said.
“Rather than having to open books and toggle between different types of technology, we’ve integrated it into the technology. So, if they’re looking at a person here and they want to see if it’s the person that robbed the bank downtown that we’re looking for, they can just marry the faces up,” said police Lt. Matthew Johnson.
They said it’s similar to facial recognition technology that’s under development.
“It’s close. We’ve experimented with that. As soon as it gets where it needs to be, we’ll really look at and consider it, but we don’t believe it’s there yet,” Johnson said.
The city has also begun using GPS tracking to map the real-time location of its officers on the street.
Police commanders said it’s not a big brother watch system and that what they’re really after is better information to map out their resources.
“This really does come down to how effective our deployments are, and that’s what we want to get to. Are we making effective use of the manpower we have in the areas we want to cover?” Bealefeld questioned.
The GPS tracking works through the officers’ smart phones. Currently, 80 officers are being tracked, all of whom work in the downtown area, officials told 11 News. Eventually, every officer on the street will be on the GPS system.