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Baltimore police to expand crime lab for immediate analysis of gun crime evidence

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Officials say they plan to improve an analysis system that would identify shooters in real-time in order to reduce future violence

BALTIMORE — Connecting evidence obtained from different crimes scenes to determine if the same gun was used at each has typically taken months to process. But now, thanks to a new program, Baltimore Police will soon be able to match and test that evidence in just days.

The immediate collection and analysis of crime gun evidence will help police “identify in real time shooters and weapon owners to disrupt their activity and reduce future violence,” Eric Melancon, deputy chief of staff of Commissioner Michael Harrison, told members of the city’s spending panel at a recent meeting.

The panel this week approved $250,00 in grant funding from the U.S. Justice Department that will help the department lay the groundwork for better collection and sharing of the data and analysis. Spread over three years, the grant will be used in select locations to help identify the best approaches and methods, and then to expand the program across the city, Melancon said.

By the time the grant is finished, the city expects to have the analysis system up and running, with no need for any additional money.

City Council President Brandon Scott, who has lobbied for the program since 2017, said it will serve as an important tool to reduce crime in Baltimore.

“I think this is a critical piece of a complete public safety strategy. It is critical to remove these people (those who commit gun violence) from the neighborhoods," he said.

Scott said that if gun shell casings were found at two shooting scenes, it would take months to connect them to the same gun. But under the new system it will take just days.

“It’s a real time effort to disrupt criminal activity and using technology to track down guns, ammunition from multiple cases and shooting,” he said.

Andrew Vaught, managing director of the police department’s data driven strategies division, said similar programs elsewhere have been shown to reduce crime.

He said this money would allow the department’s crime lab to expand what it is doing and make sure a systematic process is put in place. The work will begin in the Eastern District, partially because of the high-levels of gun violence there, but also because the district has additional resources from the strategic decision support center.

The department’s “predictive policing” programs are run out of the Eastern and Western districts, and use computers to help predict retaliatory shootings and provide reports of gunfire to patrol officers.

“Our hope is to pilot these systems and processes ... then we will slowly implement that city wide," expanding its use citywide, Vaught said.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement that the initiative would help the department to target repeat violent offenders, which he attributed to the city’s record-violence in recent years.

“My direction to the police department has been to go after the repeat violent offenders who are driving the crime and violence in our city,” Young said. "These types of awards and partnerships are exactly what I want to see and I believe will go a long way towards these efforts.”