Public safety data officer wants to break silos, make data more transparent
Better use of data can help the business community work with the city to reduce crime, according to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s new public safety data officer.
Amid ongoing concerns among local businesses about crime and public safety, the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) late last year announced its first ever public safety data officer.
Jeff Zuback comes to the business and civic organization with eight years experience in state-level criminal justice data and analysis. He served as chief of the Maryland State Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services and before that as director of the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center at the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention.
In this new position, Zuback will work with the business community and city stakeholders to decrease crime and improve public safety.
Among his first priorities will be helping break down the silos between the various law enforcement and public safety agencies that can prevent effective data-sharing. Zuback said data silos have long been a problem that makes data difficult to clean and use.
Being more transparent with the public about the data that is collected and the trends it shows is another priority, Zuback said. He plans to build an inventory of the various public datasets available in the Greater Baltimore region, then better visualize the public safety data through interactive dashboards or other tools.
That access to data, he said, will promote transparency and help “appropriately identify benchmarks that can be utilized to measure progress.” To that end, Zuback said he hopes to use data to reach a “uniform language” among law enforcement and GBC’s partner organizations on how to understand public safety data and the metrics that are measured.
Those efforts will require collaboration with the city and region’s business community, as well as its nonprofits and civic institutions, all of which make up GBC. Zuback said everyone is “very passionate about” public safety, and he hopes to use data to point the partners “to where there might be challenges” and where investments might be needed.
That data analysis will also help assess the effectiveness of the various crime reduction programs that exist in the city and the state, Zuback said, and determine where there are gaps in the data currently being collected.
Building an effective data analysis program could be a challenge, given that Baltimore has local police, while the state handles public safety at its port and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the courts and probation services collect data of their own, so Zuback said it will be critical to find an “intersection” between all those agencies. That process will take time, however. “It's a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.
GBC hopes that hiring a public safety data officer will serve as an example for similar organizations across the country, according to the group’s Executive Director Mark A. Thomas. He said public safety is “the top issue that everyone deals with in the region and unfortunately, defines how people perceive Baltimore.” By using data to better understand what is happening on the ground, he said organizations like GBC can contribute to safer communities.
“What you're seeing with civic organizations across the country, with public safety being among the top issues that we're all collectively facing, is that we want to be more hands-on,” Thomas said. “In order to do that, you actually have to have the capacity to understand the issues.”