City police reviewing the department's 911 policy say computer screens, to be installed in patrol cars by early next year, will allow officers to receive the exact location of reported crimes while protecting the anonymity of 911 callers.
These screens, or "mobile data work stations," are expected to be installed in all patrol cars, "probably within 90 days," said Col. Steven Crumrine, chief of the Baltimore Police Department's technical services bureau.
Under the current policy, dispatchers are given discretion to withhold the exact address of a reported incident whenever the caller requests anonymity.
That policy came under scrutiny after the June slaying of a Baltimore woman whose downstairs neighbor had called police to report screaming outside her apartment. Officers responding to the scene were given a block number instead of an address and saw nothing on the block. The body of Keri Ann Sirbaugh was found the next day, in brush a few feet from the apartment.
But under the new system, police dispatched to respond to a 911 call automatically will see the name and address of the caller on a screen in their cruisers. Colonel Crumrine, who led a recent review of 911 procedures, said the messages will include, "in some sort of highlighted form," a note saying that the caller requested anonymity.
"This is not a policy change," he said. "This is a technology change, which will result in a procedural change."
Colonel Crumrine said yesterday that the city's policy is fundamentally sound and will not be changed until the screens are in place. But he acknowledged that the installation of these "mobile data work stations" would result in a change: Officers, not dispatchers, will have discretion in handling anonymous calls.
"We'll be able to send written texts directly to the officers, instead of putting them out over the radio," he said. "People with scanners will no longer be able to pick them up."
Colonel Crumrine said his review of the 911 procedures included surveys of 30 police departments around the country. He and Maj. Timothy Longo, the department's new communications head, will continue to re-evaluate other department procedures, Colonel Crumrine said.
The standing policy had differed significantly from policies at seven major police departments -- including Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles -- where 911 operators always provide the exact address of calls to speed response and protect officers.
Policing specialists and the Baltimore police union have supported the current procedure, with union president Gary McLhinney saying that callers must be allowed to call anonymously. Efforts to reach Officer McLhinney yesterday were unsuccessful.