A pilot program under way in Northeast Baltimore could pave the way for city residents to begin filing police reports over the phone.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police are trying to address a high volume of 911 calls in that district by rolling out a program in which residents can report nonviolent, nonurgent crimes over the phone on the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift. The program has allowed the Police Department to put four more officers — who can respond to more serious calls — back on the streets during those hours.
"For something like misdemeanor crimes and property damage, it doesn't necessarily require an officer to come out," Guglielmi said. "That report will still be taken and investigated, but it can be done over the phone."
The idea is not new, and Baltimore lags behind other cities that have revamped the way their police departments take reports.
In Nashville, residents have been able to make reports of lesser crimes over the phone for two decades. And many police departments now allow people to file such complaints online, including Chicago and Seattle. Locally, Howard County and Montgomery County are among the jurisdictions that take online reports.
Other cities are trying more radical ideas. In San Francisco, the police department unveiled a test program last year that uses civilian investigators to respond to nonviolent crimes. They interview victims and witnesses, write reports, take crime scene photos and collect fingerprint and DNA evidence. The idea has been in the works there for five years and was modeled after programs in Great Britain, according to news reports.
Guglielmi said that Baltimore has not had any formal discussions about implementing online reporting, though he noted that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been a proponent of using technology to upgrade how the city does business.
"If the phone pilot goes well, it's definitely something that could be explored," he said.
Residents and community leaders have complained that the Northeast District, the largest police district in the city, is stretched too thin to handle the number of calls that come in. A city councilman recently told residents that, when reporting a crime, they should say that a gun is involved, in hopes of expediting a response.
Officers, meanwhile, complain that they spend the bulk of their time on minor issues, some that shouldn't be handled by police at all.
Guglielmi said of report-taking over the phone: "We're not 100 percent sold on it, but we want to try it."
The department's Northeast District has been used as a guinea pig for new ideas before, including an experiment with a new work shift that had officers work four days a week for 10 hours each day.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun