Baltimore City

City Council proposal would have police post active 911 responses online

A City Council resolution requesting that the Baltimore Police Department share active 911 responses online was met with resistance from police officials Tuesday during an initial reading before the public safety committee.

Police said the city's Computer Aided Dispatch system is too dated to perform the task.


The Police Department and various other city agencies are in the process of developing "a much more robust CAD system that would offer these types of capabilities," but the new system won't be in place until September 2014, said Maj. Joseph Smith, who commands the department's Central Records Section.

The department will be able to consider maintaining an online 911 response log only once the new CAD system's structure is in place, officials said.


The existing system was installed in 1997 and last updated in 2005, officials said.

Councilman Brandon Scott, the lead sponsor of the resolution and vice chairman of the public safety committee, said his priority is to keep police officials mindful of the department's need to remain transparent.

"They've been great at doing that, you just have to keep their feet to the fire," Scott said.

The software Scott proposes would list active police calls on the department's website for residents to view in real time, mapping responses and outlining how they are being prioritized.

"This is the stuff people want to know," Scott said. "If we have a more informed population, we can have a more involved population."

Other police departments in the country have adopted such systems, including Dallas and Arlington, Texas, Scott said. He said Baltimore likely could get the software for free and that implementing the changes to the city's website would cost taxpayers nothing.

Sgt. Christopher Cook of the Arlington police said his department's "active calls" log, which has been on its website for the past few years, has been a major success, receiving praise from residents and accounting for about 40 percent of all Web traffic.

"There's been a very, very positive response from the community," Cook said. "In fact, the community wants more. They would like to see what the 911 dispatcher is actually typing on the call."


Just how much information is shared has also caused concerns, Cook said. Some officers worried that criminals could take advantage of information showing a heavy police presence in one area by committing crime in another, he said.

That concern prompted a change in how often information is posted in Arlington at night from every five minutes — the daytime rate — to every hour, Cook said.

A concern that a 911 log could deter residents from calling in emergencies also was expressed in Baltimore in a June response to Scott's resolution by Robert Minor, then-acting chief information officer for the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.

"Many people that call 911 are not in the midst of an ongoing crime, but rather they are an observer," Minor wrote. "The idea that one can call 911 and remain anonymous is essential to these types of incidents being reported."

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However, Chris Tonjes, the new director of MOIT, backed away from that stance Tuesday, falling in line with the Police Department.

Scott dismissed Minor's concerns, saying the online log proposed does not track 911 calls, but responses, and would provide no more information than police scanners, which already are available to anyone.


James Green, counsel for the Police Department, said a method of screening the online log for false police calls — there were 34,000 false burglary alarms last year — would also have to be determined, so as not to give residents a false impression of the amount of crime in their neighborhoods.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor has worked closely with Scott to improve police transparency and called the upgrade to the city's CAD system a top priority, but would not otherwise comment on the resolution.

The resolution passed to a second reading and will next be considered Oct. 15.