This time last year, when I was in the final leg of my MBA program at Johns Hopkins University and considering jobs, I learned about the Baltimore Corps Fellowship program through the Carey Business School’s Career Development Office (CDO). Baltimore Corps enlists talent from around the country to work directly with leaders at the forefront of Baltimore’s most impactful social work. I liked the idea of applying my skills to make a system-level impact in Baltimore, so I submitted my application and was grateful to be accepted.
As part of my fellowship, I was placed with Baltimore’s Office of Innovation (i-team), launched with funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Teams Program, which helps cities tackle problems in new ways to deliver better results for residents. When I joined, the i-team was working with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to improve its recruitment and hiring process, with the goal of not only hiring more officers but also building a more diverse department with more officers from Baltimore.
Baltimore, a city with a rich cultural and industrial history, continues to grapple with high levels of violent crime. One reason for this challenge is that the BPD is experiencing a shortage of officers—a result of declining applications. And while urban police departments around the country are also struggling with police recruitment, the stakes here in Baltimore are particularly high.
My role within the team was a mix of research, project coordination, solution development, and implementation, as well as monitoring and support.
One of the most interesting and impactful projects I got to lead was to make BPD ride-alongs more systematic and useful as a way to help recruitment. The goal of a ride-along—where a community member is invited to join a police officer as they patrol the neighborhood by vehicle—is to deepen connections between the BPD and community members, particularly potential applicants, and raise awareness about the role of police officers. In its research, the i-team heard from residents how a ride-along opened their eyes to the work of police officers and even cleared up misconceptions.
For example, police officers spend a lot of time talking to residents, showing that good communication skills are important for the job. Having seen first-hand what patrol is typically like, the potential applicant knows what the job entails and feels more interested and better prepared for the job. However, there were challenges. The only way to sign up for a ride-along was to call a Baltimore Police district office, something few residents were aware of. This likely reduced the number of sign-ups. Further, even though a key goal was to attract possible recruits for the BPD, there was no system to track and manage information about riders.
As part of my project, I configured an online scheduling tool for ride-along signups that would make ride-alongs easily accessible and user-friendly to residents without creating an additional burden to the police districts. The sign-up system also gave the BPD a way to reach out to residents after their ride-alongs to invite them to apply to the BPD and ask them how the ride-along experience could improve.
Within the first month of the city-wide ride-alongs systemization initiative pilot, 350 people signed up for ride-alongs. Sixty percent of those who signed up expressed interest in learning more about a career at the BPD, and 70 percent of riders who responded to a feedback survey said they came away more interested in a career with the BPD after the ride-along. We get a lot of encouraging feedback from riders every day that motivates us to continuously improve the program. “I had a great time and enjoyed the experience very much,” said one resident who took a ride-along in the Central District. “Before my ride-along I was unsure if I wanted to work in Baltimore City and now I’m almost certain that I do. For my sake and the sake of others like me, I seriously hope they continue this program.”
As I reflect back on my fellowship and my experience as a part of the innovation team, I am truly grateful for this opportunity to make change happen where it is most needed. It was also fulfilling to improve an existing resource that could increase understanding between communities and the BPD and connect residents to opportunities to protect and serve their communities.