The governor of Maryland is a long shot for the White House—and the best manager in government today.
In March, O’Malley, having played all his cards with an ambitious campaign promise and a rocky start, redoubled his effort. He and Norris—a fast-talking, leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-driving, ’70s-era police movie kind of guy—began to meet nearly every day and often several times a day. Officials who were around at the time remember their relationship as a marriage. “They saw more of each other than anyone else,” one former staffer told me. Norris, who had been in charge of coordinating the NYPD’s CompStat meetings, began to implement an almost identical program at the BPD, while O’Malley cleared the path politically, throwing the weight of his office behind the new program. They brought in computers to map where crime was happening; retrained precinct commanders to deploy the 3,100-member force accordingly; began collecting and analyzing crime data for the whole city on a biweekly basis; and held regular meetings where all the leaders in the police force would gather and discuss the trends.
Meanwhile, O’Malley helped to create a special task force of seventy-five police officers to eliminate a backlog of unserved arrest warrants—a job that had, under the previous administration, fallen to just four overwhelmed souls. The move was intended to zero in on what Norris called “a small core of criminals,” and in 2000 alone it helped police officers arrest, interrogate, and charge more than 250 suspects who had already been implicated in recent homicides and nonfatal shootings. Partly as a result, the rate of solved cases began to climb. In 1999, the police had solved 54 percent of homicides; by the end of 2000, they had solved 80 percent.
O’Malley and Norris’s efforts were also buttressed by an infusion of new recruits, courtesy of then President Bill Clinton’s COPS Program, which was launched in 1994 to help support local community policing efforts. Over the course of nearly a decade, Baltimore was awarded a total of $58 million and was able to hire nearly 900 police officers.
Despite incremental progress, it was slow going at first, and in the spring and early summer, the crime rate even appeared to be climbing. But by the fall, at last, it began to tick downward. By the following January—one year into O’Malley’s first term—the number of homicides per year had dropped below 300 for the first time in a decade. In 1999, there were 305 murders; by 2000, there were 262. Two years later, there were 253. While the homicide rate from there on out climbed slightly and then remained stubbornly high throughout the rest of O’Malley’s term as mayor, the broad downward trend in crime as a whole continued. By 2005, robberies and aggravated assaults were down by a third, and the overall crime rate in Baltimore had dropped by at least 24 percent.
Even before CompStat had gotten off the ground, back in early 2000, O’Malley was eager to expand the concept to other realms. The idea of closely monitoring data and tracking weekly and biweekly progress toward explicit goals appealed to him. It was a way to break down daunting problems into bite-sized pieces, to move, incrementally, in the right direction. It must have felt, in some ways, like a game. In June 2000, just six months after becoming mayor, O’Malley and his team launched a new city-wide program.
CitiStat, as it was called, would be just like CompStat, O’Malley announced, but instead of applying only to the police force, it would apply to every agency in the city. Just as the police commanders had been asked to gather data, set measurable goals, and convene at biweekly performance reviews, so would the agency heads. If CompStat was built on Maple’s premise that the police force should “put cops on the dots,” CitiStat was built on a similar, if less catchy idea—that agencies should deploy their limited resources to the areas that would pack the most punch.
Among those who work in the small world of government performance—a field that, for a variety of reasons, tends to move at glacial speed—CitiStat was seen as a potential game changer. While the CompStat model had been making waves in the criminal justice circuit since the early ’90s and a handful of non-police organizations, like New York City’s Parks Department, had begun to apply the concept on an agency-wide scale, no one had ever tried it with an entire city. If this worked, they thought, it could really change the way we do things, says Robert Behn, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who studies government performance. “All eyes were on Baltimore,” he says.
When CitiStat launched in June 2000, Baltimore City Hall was a mess. If a citizen requested a basic service, like having a downed tree removed or a pothole filled, it would often take multiple calls to reach an operator and then days, or sometimes weeks, to see a response. City officials often showed up late, or drunk, or not at all, and in many instances they seemed to lack the basic information necessary to do their job. One day, O’Malley asked an agency head how many cars and trucks the city had at its disposal. He was given an answer that turned out to be about 2,000 vehicles off the mark.
Where to begin? “The first thing we did was throw all the data we had about the city into charts and maps and graphs to see what was going on,” says Matt Gallagher, who was hired in 2000 to coordinate the brand-new CitiStat program, along with O’Malley’s deputy mayor and childhood friend, Michael Enright. (Gallagher is now the governor’s chief of staff.) Once they had the data in one place, the men “sat down with the numbers” and discovered that rates of absenteeism, overtime, and workers’ compensation claims were staggeringly high. Using off-the-shelf software—mostly Excel spreadsheets—they figured out which departments were filing the most overtime, which individuals were responsible for most of the absenteeism, and how long, on average, it was taking employees to get back to work after they had been injured. Then they began meeting with the agencies to figure out what was going on.
What they discovered was an extraordinary amount of waste, redundancy, and poor management. Some of it was easily fixable. Simply redrawing the Animal Control employees’ daily routes, for example, saved that team more than 10 percent in overtime. But other problems were harder to suss out. For example, at one of the early CitiStat meetings with the Department of Public Works, Gallagher and Enright asked the new head of the department why he wasn’t firing employees who were chronically absent without reason. After a while, he reluctantly admitted that it was because as soon as an employee was fired, the budget department would eliminate that position in the name of salary savings. For him, he said, it was better to have an unreliable employee than no employee at all. That discovery was, as such things go, a eureka moment. O’Malley’s team subsequently met with the budget office, changed their policies, and then went back to the agency heads, empowering them to make changes of their own.
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