Saturday, April 10, 2010

Baltimore Puts Comstat on Hold

Will Baltimore pull the plug on Comstat?

The term Comstat is a derivation of Compstat which is short for computer statistics. Compstat was introduced in New York City by by Jack Maple of the Transit Authority Police. At the time it was called Charts of the Future. Maple methodically plotted and tracked crime with pins stuck in wall maps. Charts of the Future was credited with cutting rampant subway crime. Chief of the New York City Transit Police William J. Bratton was later appointed Police Commissioner by Rudolph Giuliani, and brought Maple's Charts of the Future to NYPD.

Compstat became a more sophisticated version of Charts of the Future. Compstat is the use of technology and communication to reduce crime, and expend personnel and resources. Compstat utilizes Geographic Information Systems to map crime and identify problems. In weekly meetings, police executives meet with local precinct commanders to discuss issues in there neighborhoods. The sessions are intended to devise strategies and tactics to reduce crime, and improve quality of life throughout the community. Besides New York and Baltimore, Compstat is used in Austin, TX, Los Angeles, Newark Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Vancouver to name a few.

Baltimore began using some Compstat principles in the late 1990s. Governor Martin O'Malley, then mayor of Baltimore, brought in New York consultants shortly after he became mayor to implement a more sophisticated review of data. According to the Baltimore Sun, O'Malley vowed to get tough on crime, he instilled the New York philosophies into the Police Department's operations and expanded it across agencies. The broader program, known as CitiStat, won a Harvard innovation award in 2004.

Comstat was first implemented by Former Baltimore police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who led Compstat sessions in New York and later Baltimore, and said the weekly meetings were necessary and revealing.

Norris told the Sun,"It allows the strongest commander to shine, and it exposes the fakers very quickly." Norris, went on to say, "I don't care what company it is. If you are a good employee, do you want to be buried or get a chance each week to stand in front of the CEO and show him how smart you are?"

So why walk away from Comstat?

Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore police spokesman, told the Sun that Comstat meetings has been suspended for the 30 days as the Police Commissioner looks for "creative ideas to revamp Comstat," which Guglielmi called "laborious" and "stale."

According to the Sun, the meetings have been criticized by some officers who say they often devolve into browbeatings. Commanders often take a day or more to compile thick binders of information and are holed up for hours memorizing facts so as not to be caught off-guard. Confrontations are frequent.

"It's a beat-down session," said Robert F. Cherry, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union told the Sun. "It's become a forum for finger-pointing and just running through a lot of numbers without giving some concrete strategies for fighting crime."

My Take

The idea of accountability can be threatening to some executive officers. The weekly scrutiny of your work in an open forum can be embarrassing especially for under performing executives. However, will a more kind and gentle approach yield the same kind of results experienced in New York City.

William J. Bratton took over as police commissioner in 1994 and introduced Compstat to the city. Only four years earlier, there were 2,245 homicides in New York City. In 2009, there were 412.

By all accounts, the Compstat meetings were rough in New York City. Precinct commanders who could not perform were replaced. However, no one can argue with the results. The unprecedented reductions in crime have saved literally thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

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