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Baltimore Police deployed to 120 most violent 'micro-zones' three times per patrol shift, under new strategy

The Baltimore Police Department has implemented a new patrol strategy requiring officers to spend more time in 120 “micro-zones” across the city that have seen high rates of violence over the past five years, police officials confirmed to The Baltimore Sun.

“The commissioner has constantly told us that we are going to change the culture and change the way we do things around here, and this is just another example that we are going to try — a different thing,” said Col. Richard Worley, the department's chief of patrol. “Honestly, the shootings and homicides are above where they were last year, so we can't keep doing the same thing.”

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There had been about 150 homicides so far this year, as of Monday.

Under the new “place-based policing strategy” introduced last week, patrol and other officers are required to spend 15 to 20 minutes three times a shift in the zones within their posts, either doing community policing like chatting with residents or business owners, or enforcement, such as car stops and investigative interviews.

The zones, which are two blocks long by two blocks wide, were the location of 30% to 40% of all serious violent crimes in the city in the past five years, Worley said. Officers received maps of the zones, but Worley said those maps represent tactical information and are not public.

District commanders will have the ability to request moving the zones, which will be considered by command, Worley said.

Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the local police union, questioned the strategy — saying it relies on too few officers to cover too many locations.

“It doesn't look like it’s going to be very effective,” he said.

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said he sees the changes as a necessary step to address more directly address high crime areas, albeit a step he said he’s been calling for since 2012.

He added that while he supports the idea, he wants to see more evidence-based policing to also target violent repeat offenders.

“We know the geographic locations, but we also know the people,” said Scott, adding that patrol officers in the force “don’t have time to proactively patrol” high crime areas currently.

Worley acknowledged that there will be some days when officers are too busy responding to 911 calls to make three stops in the zones, and commanders “understand that.” But whenever possible, officers will be expected to participate, he said.

Worley said Commissioner Michael Harrison has been briefing supervisors at regular Comstat meetings and officers at roll calls on the new strategy.

Worley said the strategy arose because Harrison tasked him and other leaders in the department to “see what we can do to change up what we've been doing and try to quash some of this violence.”

He acknowledged that the strategy is similar to others in the past that focused on specific geographic locations — known as “cops on dots” or “hot spot” policing. But he said the new strategy is different, in part because of the volume of locations identified.

“I was part of when we did hot spot policing, we never had anywhere near this many zones,” he said. “We are giving the patrol officers as much information about where to concentrate their activity on their post because that is the most violent part of the area that they are patrolling.”

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The new strategy has “a lot more analytics put into it, a lot more technology put into it,” he said. “It’s a huge difference from anything we have done in the past.”

Mancuso said the strategy “seems like the same old thing” that was done in the past, but at a time when the department has far fewer officers assigned to patrol. The city and the union have both said recruitment is a major problem and that the department is hundreds of officers short.

“If you have 500 fewer cops than back when you had ‘hot spots’ and different zones and ‘cops on dots,’ and now you are touting that you have more [zones than before], I don’t know how the math adds up,” Mancuso said. “I don't know how it succeeds.”

Mancuso said he has been promised a comprehensive crime plan from Harrison, the former New Orleans police chief, since before Harrison even started with the department in February — when he was still headed to the city as then-Mayor Catherine Pugh’s latest hire.

“Back when I was first meeting with Mayor Pugh about the commissioner coming to town, I was told he had all the answers, he had the plans already, he's done this in New Orleans,” Mancuso said. “And now for going on five months, I’ve been waiting for someone to show me — to show us. We have officers out there running around with no real direction. They don't see a crime plan.”

Worley said the new micro-zones approach was first piloted in Southwest Baltimore, and expanded citywide June 16.

Officers are complying with the new mandate, he said.

“We've done spot checks on a couple different officers, and they’ve been in their zones where they are supposed to be and spending some time there,” Worley said. “We've got the hardest working officers in the country.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.

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