Baltimore police intelligence meetings to resume

City police said they will resume weekly intelligence-sharing meetings for commanders that were suspended last month amid concerns that they had grown tired and were no longer the most effective way to pore over crime data.

A memo distributed to officers said the Comstat meetings, which have not been held since April 1, will resume this Thursday with slight tweaks. The New York-based concept was adopted by Baltimore in 2000 and has become a national law enforcement standard. Gov. Martin O'Malley also applied the principles to government-management programs.

The purpose of the sessions is to use numbers and maps to spot problem areas, connect incidents and discuss tactics.

Among the changes, cell phones will be banned and presentations time-limited in hopes of reducing the length of the meetings, which can run several hours, Guglielmi said. He said more significant overhauls were discussed but will not be implemented.

"It was a chance for us to reflect and figure out how to do it better," Guglielmi said of the hiatus. "There's no getting around it: We need it. It's an operational tool."

The memo, signed by Deputy Commissioner for Operations Anthony Barksdale, reminds commanders of the importance of accuracy in reporting and intelligence sharing. "It is better to admit ignorance than to make inaccurate or misleading statements," the memo says. "Integrity violations will not be tolerated."

The announcement came as police said homicides and nonfatal shootings in Baltimore have dropped significantly during the first four months of 2010. Fifty-six people were killed through April, the lowest figure since 1977. That contrasts with 74 at the same point in 2009 and 91 in 2007. Overall, crime is down 6 percent compared to last year.

Comstat has not only been a key policing tool, but the inspiration for O'Malley's acclaimed numbers-driven management programs for government. As governor, he has sought to help smaller police agencies institutionalize the process and promoted its use to monitor state services and the Chesapeake Bay.

But the meetings have been criticized by some officers who say they often devolve into browbeating. In discussing the decision to suspend the meetings last month, Guglielmi said they had become "stale" and "laborious."

In New York, retired commanders said in a recent survey that the Comstat process encouraged underreporting of crimes.

Over the years, the process is said to have been a key management tool for the deputy commissioner of operations, who oversees much of the day-to-day police functions. Sources said Barksdale took extended time off after the announcement to suspend Comstat was made. But Guglielmi insisted Barksdale was tasked with overseeing the review.

In lieu of Comstat, commanders such as Chief of Patrol Col. John Skinner continued to hold emergency meetings with district commanders to discuss tactics and crime patterns, including one gathering after a burst of crime along the Greenmount Avenue corridor.

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