By Alexis Taylor,
AFRO News Editor

In efforts to free up resources and improve community relations, the Baltimore Police Department has announced a plan to use Strategic Management and Alternative Response Tactics, or SMART policing. 

In a 45-minute conversation with the AFRO, Mayor Brandon Scott and Commissioner Michael Harrison spoke about what the four-pronged SMART policing initiative means for Charm City. 

“This is about being smart with the way we allocate our resources and deliver police services,” said Commissioner Harrison. “This initiative helps us to decrease the time it takes to respond to calls for service by only responding to those calls that really measure up as emergencies and moving away from the non emergencies.” 

“More than 80 percent of all the calls we go on are non-emergencies,” Harrison continued. “So this allows us to spend less time on non-emergencies, more time on actual emergencies.” 

Harrison said that “through formal and informal engagement, daily problem solving” and the implementation of neighborhood policing plans, police officers will be able to bring services to the community faster and have time to do more proactive patrols.

The four tenants of the plan include offloading calls related to mental health crises or situations that are not true emergencies to other trained service providers like social workers or contractors. Beginning this summer, the plan will also begin allowing third-party vendors to respond to traffic no-injury accidents that also don’t need a report from the Maryland State Police or an emergency response from local police. 

“Last year we had over 24,000 traffic accidents that we handled that were just minor fender benders,” said Harrison. “Not only do we have to handle them, we have to wait even when we’re done for a tow truck in many cases. Sometimes that can be a one, two or three hour wait- that’s an officer not in a place where we need them.”

SMART policing includes an expansion of the Telephone Reporting Unit (TRU), used to handle certain calls like the non-emergencies that currently preoccupy human resources. For example, SMART policing calls for the diversion of 911 reports for a shoplifter that is no longer present to even pose a threat. Calls where someone is reporting a non-violent crime that is not currently in progress would be diverted.

“Our police patrol officers have essentially long gone away from being patrol officers to just being call takers – people who just respond to things- over 80 percent of them, which are not emergency situations,” Mayor Scott told the AFRO. “SMART policing is removing non-emergency, minor things from a live body police officers in a very smart and wise way that has been proven to work in other places around the country.”

Mayor Brandon Scott (left) and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison (right) have announced a four-pronged approach to SMART policing that will divert non-emergency calls, expand the Telephone Reporting Unit (TRU), limit responses to no-injury traffic accidents and address false alarms that tie up human resources. (www.baltimorecity.gov)

Scott and Harrison count the False Alarm Reduction Program as the fourth principle of Baltimore’s SMART policing initiative. The two say that they are currently working with Baltimore’s Councilmen and women to enact some kind of policy that would fine or discontinue emergency services to residents who have more than five false alarm calls in one 365-day period. In nearby counties, violators only have three chances to report a false alarm before emergency responses are discontinued. 

“We’re responding to over 28,000 false alarms where it’s either a malfunction in the alarm, or it’s a user error to some degree, but it’s not an emergency. It’s not a burglary- it’s a false alarm. Sometimes the weather triggers them. Sometimes people trigger them- either way, we are responding to those as if it’s an actual burglary. We find out that 99 percent of them are not,” said Harrison. “We have to change the law through legislation, because right now we can’t discontinue service until the user has committed 15 violations or more.” 

Harrison said that SMART policing is about more than just freeing up the time of Baltimore’s officers. 

“It’s not just mere presence in a neighborhood, but it’s, what do we want officers doing?” he said. “We want them to engage- we want them to stop and talk to you, we want you to talk to them! The goal is to get to know the members of the community and have enough interactions where you begin to feel comfortable with us.” 

Harrison said the initiative will give officers more time to investigate crime. 

“We get to have more time focusing on not just areas, but problematic persons who are causing havoc in the community,” he said, adding that it also “improves working conditions” because officers are able to focus on situations they are trained to handle. 

Mayor Scott told the AFRO that the SMART policing initiative is part of an answer to questions he gets from his residents on a daily basis. 

“Why is it that the police are never there engaging with those individuals? Why aren’t police walking around in the neighborhood getting to know the residents? The simple answer right now is that they don’t have the time to do that,” said Scott. “We want to allow them the time to do that, to start to build those relationships, to be more proactive, to be in the places that they need to be in the spaces that they need to be.” 

Scott said that SMART policing will allow police officers to return to being community servants that ensure safety by “interacting with the people that they need to interact with, while simultaneously building relationships with every day residents, churches, businesses and schools.”

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer