Cover: Evaluating Baltimore's Aerial Investigation Research Pilot Program

Evaluating Baltimore's Aerial Investigation Research Pilot Program

Published May 9, 2022

by Rosanna Smart, Andrew R. Morral, Terry L. Schell

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In May 2020, the Baltimore Police Department began a six-month test of the Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) program to evaluate whether aerial surveillance could help detectives solve serious violent crimes. Using a Bayesian statistical analytic framework, and leveraging the timing and operational restrictions of the AIR program, we investigate the program's effects on clearance and crime rates for homicides, nonfatal shootings, carjackings, and armed robberies. We find a low probability (0.41) that the program improved clearance rates for these crimes, although there is a high probability (0.92) that the program improved clearance rates for carjackings that occurred when the planes were able to fly. Nevertheless, we find strong evidence of a deterrent effect of the program on crime rates. Most of this benefit is due to reductions in armed robbery; however, this effect was not sensitive to whether the program was conducting aerial surveillance at the particular time in question, suggesting that deterrence was driven by other aspects of the program, such as announcement effects. It is thus unclear whether these deterrence benefits are sustainable, particularly if the program does not increase the probability that criminals are arrested. Our results imply that high-resolution, persistent aerial surveillance has the potential to deter crime, but meaningful benefits on clearance rates for cases targeted by the program were not found in the Baltimore trial.

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This research was prepared for Arnold Ventures and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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