Crime Drop Linked To Data Monitoring

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

If rural St. Mary's County's experience with a big-city crime-fighting model has proved anything, police say, it is that playing by the numbers is a good bet, even if the numbers are not very high.

For the first six months of this year, crime in St. Mary's dropped 2 percent compared with the same period last year. Officials said the decrease is partly attributable to the sheriff's implementation of CompStat, a program that allows commanders to review crime data on a weekly basis and allocate resources accordingly.

"We never did that before," said St. Mary's Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron (R). "All cylinders of the engine weren't all in sync. We didn't talk to each other."

By comparison, crime in Charles County increased nearly 8 percent during the first six months of this year, and crime in Calvert County increased about 21 percent, according to Maryland State Police data.

It sounds like common sense: Put your cops where the crime is, and hold regular meetings to make sure agency divisions communicate. But when St. Mary's began using CompStat in January, it was the first agency in Southern Maryland to do so. The program originated in the 1990s in New York City and is used by most large police departments.

The St. Mary's incarnation of CompStat has led to some major breaks in cases and some less noticeable ones, Cameron said.

At one meeting, he said, commanders reviewed an incident report of a man looking at child pornography on a computer in his car. They contacted the FBI, which can generally prosecute such cases, and learned that the man had molested a 3-year-old girl, Cameron said.

"If it hadn't been for that conversation, that [report] would've been filed, and that would've continued to happen," the sheriff said.

The sheriff's office received a $15,000 grant, mainly for equipment, from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention to implement CompStat. The money was part of more than $337,000 the governor's crime office gave to data-driven and community policing efforts in St. Mary's.

"The concept of CompStat and data-driven policing is something that we want to be able to expose local law enforcement to," said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the crime control and prevention office. "These local law enforcement agencies no longer have to police in the dark."

At a recent CompStat meeting in St. Mary's, commanders turned their attention to what might have seemed like minor crimes: a photographer suspected of stalking his ex-girlfriend, a schizophrenic man allegedly trespassing at a library and a rash of flat-screen TV thefts.

"Where are they going?" Cameron asked no one in particular. "Somewhere, there's got to be a flat-screen road show."

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