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The Baltimore Police Department's six-month Aerial Investigations Research (AIR) pilot program—in which manned aircraft equipped with cameras gathered visual records that could be used to support crime investigations—began on May 1, 2020, and continued until October 31, 2020. This pilot was designed to facilitate police investigations of four types of crime: homicides, nonfatal shootings, armed robberies, and carjackings.

The AIR pilot program provided evidence for 158 cases, approximately 10 percent of all such targeted crimes reported in Baltimore during the period studied. For cases receiving AIR evidence packages, the provisional rates at which cases were cleared by arrest or exception was 24 percent—7 percentage points higher than similar cases that did not receive evidence packages. However, this difference was not statistically significant.

For more-difficult cases (cases that did not close within the day of the crime or the next day), the difference in provisional clearance rates for AIR cases and matched comparison cases was also 7 percentage points—a statistically significant difference. However, because AIR evidence was available for a relatively small proportion of all crimes during the pilot, its association with higher clearance rates suggests that only approximately 11 additional crimes of the types targeted by the program might have been cleared with the use of AIR evidence packages.

These are preliminary findings; some of these outcomes will change as BPD investigations continue. This preliminary report does not draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the AIR pilot; an outcome evaluation will be included in a final report.

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This research was sponsored through a grant from Arnold Ventures and conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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