Harnessing Data to Fight Crime in Maryland

By Charles Chieppo • February 23, 2015

This post originally appeared on Stephen Goldsmith's Better Faster Cheaper blog on Governing.com.

Last year, police in Prince George's County, Md., found themselves faced with an alarming increase in armed robberies of commercial establishments. Their response proved just how successful the wise use of data and a willingness to set aggressive goals -- along with a healthy dollop of creativity -- can be in the fight against crime.

Police in the Washington, D.C., suburb went to work analyzing the crime spree, which at one point reached 52 more commercial armed robberies than had been committed by the same date in 2013. They looked at when and where the crimes occurred, and by last fall they were ready to implement a commercial robbery reduction plan known as "1828" -- so named because the operation would take place between Oct. 18 and Nov. 28, dates during which there had been a particularly high number of robberies the previous year.

The goal for 1828 -- to cut the 55 commercial armed robberies that had occurred between Oct. 18 and Nov. 28 in 2013 down to 27 -- was aggressive but not unrealistic. By year's end, county police hoped to bring the overall annual increase in robberies that had been as high as 52 down to zero.

To achieve all this, police analyzed crime data and identified nine business corridors where the robberies were concentrated, and they also zeroed in on 11 7-Eleven convenience stores outside the corridors that were the most likely to be targeted, most of them stand-alones or located in smaller shopping centers. Then they drilled down further, figuring out that Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were the nights when robberies were most likely to occur.

The department deployed personnel based on the times and places where robberies were most likely to happen, but didn't stop there. Message boards on roadways in the targeted areas informed motorists (and warned potential criminals) that police operations were underway. Unoccupied police cars were parked in 7-Eleven parking lots and periodically moved.

When Nov. 28 arrived, the county police hadn't quite achieved their goal of reducing commercial armed robberies by half compared to the same period in 2013, but they had achieved a 40 percent decrease, from 55 to 33. Similarly, total robberies didn't fall back to 2013 levels by the end of 2014, but they did drop from the earlier year-over-year high of 52 to an overall increase of just seven. The department is currently preparing to mount a similar push to reduce property crimes.

No government function is more basic or important than public safety. Even in the midst of a prolonged period of scarce resources for state and local governments, the Prince George's County police department offers an important example of how modern data analytics, the courage to set challenging goals, and a liberal dose of creativity can help governments do more in austere times.

About the Author

Charles Chieppo 

Charles Chieppo is a research fellow at the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School and the principal of Chieppo Strategies, a public policy writing and advocacy firm.