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Prince George's County Finds New Crime-Fighting Tool: Statistics

Police in Prince George's County are deploying more statistics to fight crime.
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Police in Prince George's County are deploying more statistics to fight crime.

Seventeen homicides have occurred in Prince George's County this year, a drop of more than 40 percent from this time last year. That's on top of even larger reductions in murders and violent crime the last three years in the county, which has allowed Maryland to post it's lowest statewide violent crime rates in three decades.

County officials say those decreases haven't come from more policing alone, but rather policing driven by statistics.

In the book Moneyball, which was made into an Oscar-nominated movie, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team Billy Beane decided there was a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the statistics used to evaluate what made a good hitter. His new approach revolutionized the game, but it begged the question asked in the book: If gross miscalculations of a person's value could occur on a baseball field, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work?

Moneyball has now reached crime fighting. In Prince George's County, the "fundamental misunderstanding" was on homicides, which were at their highest at the end of the last decade.

"The homicide being the piece that was the largest outrage was where all our focus was. But if you look at those homicides though, so many of them, particularly in the 90s, were associated with the drug trade. And then there were the robberies. If you look at the homicides in Prince George's County and what precipitated them, that was where the issues lie," says Henry Stawinski, the deputy chief of the county police.

So what on-base and slugging percentages were to Billy Beane, robberies and illegal nightclubs are now to police. Stawinski explains how a string of robberies in one neighborhood can escalate to murder if police react slowly.

"We need to look at what's going on in this particular neighborhood. Because there are three that are violent — two more with guns — and in the last one a shot was fired. Not at anyone, but it was fired. This could become a serious problem. And then we bring our resources there," he explains.

Illegal nightclubs are an issue that plagues Prince George's County far more than any other D.C.-area jurisdiction, something Stawinski says is because of prior lax enforcement of permitting laws and that police and other authorities have now stepped up on.

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