BALTIMORE -- Baltimore police officers are getting an added distraction that, if used improperly, could make it easier to break the law.
Baltimore's police department will become one of the first agencies in the nation to issue every patrol officer a BlackBerry that allows for instant warrant checks, city officials said Wednesday. The gadgets are so notoriously addictive, though, they've earned the nickname "CrackBerries."
The city's Board of Estimates approved using $5.3 million in federal stimulus money for the police department, including $3.5 million to buy 2,000 of the BlackBerries, known as "Pocket Cops," the Associated Press reported.
The devices allow officers to run warrants, check vehicle registrations and pull up criminal histories and photos of suspects. Officers who use them can be more efficient and spend more time outside of their cars, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
Sounds good in theory, as long as officers are disciplined enough it to use it for those purposes only and can avoid regularly checking their e-mail, tweeting what they bought from the 7-Eleven and updating their fantasy football rosters. A pilot program says they can.
Police have already tried out the devices in the city's western district and received positive reviews, the AP reported. Officers partnered with Pocket Cops made twice as many arrests over a three-month period as those equipped with radios or laptops, according to statistics provided by Mayor Sheila Dixon's office. They also hauled in more offenders on outstanding warrants.
The devices could also save the city money, the AP reported. It costs about $1,700 to purchase a BlackBerry with a year's service plan, compared with $7,800 to install a laptop and software in a police car, said Scott Peterson, a spokesman for the mayor.
Baltimore remains one of the nation's most violent big cities despite a 20-year low in homicides last year, and many neighborhoods are plagued by widespread poverty and an entrenched drug trade, the AP reported. Earlier this summer, 12 people were shot at a cookout in an attack that police believe targeted a major drug dealer.