CompStat: St. Mary's County Sheriff's Transition to Data-Driven Policing

By Dfc. Cindy Allen, SMCSO Public Information Officer

In January 2008 the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office began the transition from traditional policing to data-driven policing through the implementation of CompStat. CompStat is a crime analysis program used to track and combat crime. The St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office is one of only three sheriff's offices statewide using such a model. The purpose of CompStat is to develop effective strategies to combat crime within a community.

"CompStat focuses on outcomes and not outputs," stated Sheriff Cameron. Sheriff Cameron believes that success is not measured by productivity such as the number of arrest or field interviews. "Success is measured by creating safe and sustainable communities," added Cameron.

Cameron believes that CompStat is one of the most innovative, deceptively simple and economical means to control crime and enhance public safety. "It provides a genuine strategic direction and is used to combat crime, fear and disorder," said Cameron.

Sheriff Cameron cites focusing on a specific crime problem within a defined geographic area provides for the best results. CompStat assigns ownership of a geographic region and the lines of accountability are clear. CompStat uses crime data and regular meetings of key enforcement personnel to watch weekly crime trends.

Sheriff Cameron quickly acknowledges CompStat is not his original idea and is proud to cite its history. The notoriety of CompStat began is 1990 when William Bratton became the Chief of the New York Transit Authority Police. Chief Bratton assigned patrol commanders geographic areas of control and formed a crime analysis unit which met regularly to identify problem areas and develop strategies to combat those identified problems.

CompStat flourished in the mid 1990's when Mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed William Bratton to be the 38th Police Commission of the New York City Police Department. Commissioner Bratton was determined to stay abreast of major crimes within New York City. The FBI could only provide Commissioner Bratton with annual statistical data on major crimes which was not timely enough for the Commissioner. Commissioner Bratton called on the Commanders of the seventy-six police precincts to report to him with weekly statistical data concerning major crime within the city. The crime data was collated and Commissioner Bratton went a step further. The Commissioner held regularly scheduled meetings to review crime trends within their commands and to ascertain what tactics were applied to address or resolve those trends. These meetings held commanders accountable for crime trends with their assigned geographical areas.

St. Mary's CompStat is based on the New York City Police Department's Crime Control Model.

CompStat begins with implementing realistic, clear, objectives. Law enforcement agencies must then devise strategies to achieve their desired objectives.

The St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office agency objectives include:

1. Combat crimes of violence and the fear of crime
2. Aggressively pursue those who sell, and use drugs - seize all proceeds from their illegal activity.
3. Improve the quality of life in communities by reducing nuisance crimes
4. Break the cycle of domestic violence
5. Reduce traffic fatalities, injuries and property damage
6. Improve agency services - more responsive to community

Once identified, Sheriff Cameron's CompStat plan places the responsibility for achieving those objectives on the patrol sergeants. The Sheriff calls upon the Sergeants to identify the problems in their assigned geographical area, devise tactics to address those problems and track the progress on resolving the identified problems.

Sheriff Cameron states "CompStat is grounded in data." It begins with collecting and analyzing crime occurrences and uses computerized pin mapping to act as a radar system to provide early identification of crime trends.

There are four basic steps in the use of CompStat which guide the agency's strategic plan to combating crime and improve the quality of life in the community. The steps include timely and accurate intelligence (crime statistics); rapid deployment of resources and personnel; effective tactics; and persistent follow up and assessment.

Sheriff Cameron and his staff track and review weekly the following types of crimes and incidents: Domestic Disturbances/Domestic Assaults; Burglary - residential and commercial; Motor vehicle thefts; CDS violations; Theft; Assaults; Vandalism; Trespassing (loitering, drinking in public, indecent exposure, urinating in public); Robbery; and Accidents.

"Collecting crime data is critical because it enables crime analysts or commanders to investigate two matters of practical importance - cause and prediction," said Cameron. Comparing the data enables the Sheriff and command staff to gauge progress and adjust or compensate for shifts in trends or patterns. Crime mapping identifies and plots the occurrence of crime. This allows commanders to detect paths along which criminal activity may travel.

Commanders analyze the data in an attempt to uncover connections between crimes and trace the ways some crimes may have an influence, even if only casual, to other crimes. Sheriff Cameron stated, "depending on the strength of the relationship between two crimes, we may be able to make predictions on crime trends...our ultimate goal is to prevent crime and improving the quality of life."

At the weekly CompStat meetings there are no barriers or lack of communication between divisions. All divisions are represented, informed, know each other's roles and function; and most importantly are held accountable. The interaction during CompStat meeting is critical to its success. Questions must be asked and there is no standard question.

The questions run the gambit from: What is the possible motive or victimology? What is the profile of the offender? Was the incident or crime suppressible? Could proactive patrols have prevented the incident? What is the connection to the suspect and other possible crimes? What progress has been made in the investigation of the crime? What is the next step? What is our deployment and strength level in the area? What is our plan of action?

"No question is too small or unimportant," said Cameron. "If the question is thought of, it is asked and followed up on."

Assigning responsibility to geographic regions builds a sense of ownership which enhances commitment among Sheriff Cameron's staff. "It is their community too. Supervisors take it personally when there is crime or decay in their neighborhoods and work diligently to resolve those problems in the safest and most expedient way possible," said Cameron.

The sense of ownership and responsibility then trickles down from the top to the deputies in the field. Deputies armed with specific information conduct proactive patrols and are diligent in documenting all field contacts.

Off all the Commanders in the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office, CompStat affects Patrol Commander, Lieutenant Terry Black the most.

When asked what his initial thoughts were when Sheriff Cameron informed his commanders back in January 2008 that he was implementing a new crime control model called CompStat, Lieutenant Black's response was "oh my God." Six months later Lieutenant Black is a firm believer in the process and actually enjoys the meetings.

"CompStat gives me a real time accounting of the crime trends within different geographical areas," said Black. "CompStat is a lot of work but well worth the effort. It holds people accountable and ensures proper and complete investigations. We are solving crimes today which may not have been solved two years ago. Deputies are getting out into the neighborhoods and being persistent with their investigations."

Assistant Sheriff John Horne is the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office CompStat facilitator for the weekly CompStat meeting. Horne's initial reaction to CompStat was, "I believe in the concept but attempting to gather the statistical information and trying to make sense out of the information at weekly meetings is going to be overwhelming --one more thing to do."

Six months later Assistant Horne still believes CompStat is hard work but well worth the effort. "I have seen CompStat solve cases for us," said Horne. "More importantly I see the rank and file buying into the process and improving their investigations to help obtain our agency goals."

As in any problem solving effort, an on-going process of thorough follow-up and evaluation is vital to ensure desired results are actually being achieved. The effectiveness of every strategy and tactic is assessed weekly. Ineffective tactics are re-evaluated or disposed of and effective tactics are enhanced.

Sheriff Cameron reflects, "there is a sense of pride and accomplishment when we are able to use the data to connect the dots and solve or prevent crime."

We have had numerous successes in solving crime using CompStat. One success started as a simple Field Information Report (FIR) completed by a deputy on an individual who was sitting in his vehicle in a parking lot viewing animated child pornography on a laptop computer. The FIR was discussed at the next CompStat meeting and it was determined the State of Maryland did not have a statue to address possession of animated child pornography, however; a Federal statue did exist prohibiting its possession.

St. Mary's detectives contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a search warrant for the laptop was subsequently completed and served. The examination of the files contained on the laptop produced photographs of a child being sexually abused by the owner of the computer. A simple FIR led to Federal charges against the owner of the computer for possession of animated child pornography, State charges for child abuse, and most importantly stopped a child from being further victimized.

"This one incident proves the value of CompStat," said Cameron. "CompStat worked and we made a difference."

The CompStat fever is spreading within the community also. Citizens are becoming more aware of their communities and want to be involved. We are receiving calls where a citizen will say, "this might be nothing but……" Their concern and information is documented and pass on through CompStat and in some instances helped to connect the dots and solve crime.

CompStat can extend beyond law enforcement commanders. Outside agencies such as the States Attorney's Office, parole and probation, the housing authority, and other similar community and governmental entities maybe invited to participate in meetings if their services or collaboration is deemed necessary to achieve the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for the community.

In 2000, then Baltimore City Mayor Martin O'Malley used the CompStat model to develop and implement "CitiStat." CitiStat is a citywide performance assessment program where various municipal services coordinate efforts to improve the delivery of services to residents of Baltimore.

Today, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, through the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention has implemented is an information and crime data sharing tool, put into place to provide communities with time-sensitive and sometimes critical information about crimes which have occurred in their communities. The Governor's Office has offered every law enforcement agency is the State of Maryland a grant to implement for free the first year. Sheriff Cameron quickly took advantage of the Governor's grant and has now implemented as a part of CompStat.

"This is just the beginning," said Cameron. "I believe the more information made available to the community, the safer the community will be. People want to be informed and involved. I know it is an evolving process but if we can make a difference then the process it well worth it."

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