Police data behind the pandemic response

The Baltimore Police Department is using data collection and analysis to make informed decisions about staffing and resource allocation


This article originally appeared in the May 2020 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit COVID after-action review | Pandemic data | Car parades, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

By Andrew Vaught and Joyce Iwashita

According to the National Police Foundation’s (NPF’s) Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard, thousands of officers across the country have been exposed to COVID-19. As members continue to respond to the call to serve and protect, data collection and analysis is helping the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) make informed decisions about staffing and resource allocation that ultimately affects the safety of our members and the level of service we provide to our community.

At the same time, our agency has an eye on ways that this data could help us and our federal, state and local partners plan and prepare for the next wave of COVID-19 or the next pandemic we are faced with.

Baltimore Police Department’s COVID-19 data collection and analysis

Since its creation in August 2019, the BPD’s Data Driven Strategies Division (DDSD) has improved data collection and analysis processes throughout the department to better inform day-to-day decision-making. In addition, we have focused on providing tools that ease the consumption and use of data at the operational level.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Baltimore City, the DDSD recognized the need to monitor the impact on the department and the communities we serve. In conjunction with other revised operating procedures, the DDSD created a form in Microsoft Access – a common database management system – for BPD call takers to begin tracking the personnel reporting exposure to COVID-19. To date, the BPD also continues to monitor staffing levels, medical callouts, workload and crime trends.

Based on these data sources, the DDSD developed a series of near real-time dashboards for command staff using embedded Tableau dashboards housed internally within the BPD’s network, which provide tools for analytics and data visualizations (see Figure 1 below). These dashboards display the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on BPD member health, staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and calls-for-service, informing executive decisions on the best allocations of resources based on real-time data and the changes that occur daily with this pandemic.

Figure 1: BPD’s COVID-19 administrative tracking dashboard. The DDSD has configured the dashboard, which updates every 30 minutes, to be easily viewable on different devices and accessible to executives at any time.
Figure 1: BPD’s COVID-19 administrative tracking dashboard. The DDSD has configured the dashboard, which updates every 30 minutes, to be easily viewable on different devices and accessible to executives at any time.

The DDSD developed a similar dashboard for situational awareness of crime trends in Baltimore City (see Figure 2 below). The chart presents early indicators of the types of crimes being influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. While most crimes have decreased, monitoring increases in crimes such as residential robberies help inform the allocation of department resources toward addressing these crimes.

Figure 2: Crime trends dashboard.
Figure 2: Crime trends dashboard.

The BPD created each of these dashboards internally using tools that were easily accessible. The DDSD pushed the tools out to executive commanders and other department decision-makers with the intent of providing data that helps them to be nimble and stay informed through the pandemic. Staff are also in the process of developing a public website that will enable community members to view these dashboards, supporting ongoing efforts to promote community-police relations through enhanced transparency.

Beyond the BPD’s day-to-day operations: The national picture

While law enforcement agencies like the BPD are focusing on using data to make operational decisions in a COVID-19 environment, the collection of this data is also important on a national level. It is critical that law enforcement not only analyze immediate local impacts but also examine national trends that can inform agency decisions in the long term or get ahead of potential challenges by improving situational awareness.

As more agencies collect information on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the health, safety and well-being of their officers, and the ability of agencies to carry out their mission, we can better monitor these impacts on a wider scale. For example, greater data collection has the potential to tell us which calls-for-service place officers at greater risk for contacting COVID-19, or how the pandemic is affecting employee mental health and family dynamics. Answers to these and other questions can help agencies make informed decisions on how to best protect their officers and their families from COVID-19 and other similar threats now and in the future.

We encourage other law enforcement agencies to join Baltimore in collecting data on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. Data can be collected in many ways, from simple spreadsheets to more sophisticated databases. Given the nature of police work, law enforcement agencies already document staffing and crime information. Making sure the data is updated, collected in a centralized and standardized manner, and is able to address relevant research questions is critical for future analysis.


About the authors

Andrew Vaught is the managing director of the Baltimore Police Department’s Data Driven Strategies Division. Director Vaught oversees all of the crime and intelligence analysts, the ComStat Unit, the Baltimore Crime Intelligence Centers, and the CitiWatch Program.

Joyce Iwashita is a project associate with the National Police Foundation. She supports the management of projects across various research projects and programs. 

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