A couple of years ago, the city of Baltimore launched a pilot program (no pun intended) that involved having a private contractor fly a surveillance plane over the city almost constantly, recording high-resolution video of the activity on the streets. It was surprisingly successful, resulting in police being able to retrace the movements of people engaged in shootings and other crimes back to their homes or to their post-crime destinations.
The public wasn’t initially informed of the program and when word leaked out there were complaints from the usual digital privacy advocates. The program was eventually terminated. This year, however, the company operating the program, Persistent Surveillance Systems, was back offering to start things up again. The new mayor didn’t have any objections, so the Police Commissioner met with them. He emerged from the meeting with a one-sentence response. No thanks, we’ll pass. (CBS Baltimore)
Baltimore’s police commissioner will not support flying a surveillance plane over the city again.
After meeting Monday with Ross McNutt, the founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems, the police department issued a one-sentence statement: “The commissioner learned a lot today about the surveillance plane program and still has no plans to bring it back.”
McNutt says the Greater Baltimore Committee set up the meeting.
The BPD statement echoes comments from spokesman Matt Jablow in an email last week that, “The commissioner has no plans whatsoever to bring back the surveillance plane,” he wrote.
Here’s a couple of things you might not know about the program that the Police Commissioner is turning his nose up at. First of all, it’s completely free to the taxpayers. The first time it was done, a pair of Texas philanthropists, John and Laura Arnold, paid for the entire thing. They also offered money to hire extra police officers and funding for a committee to provide oversight of the program.
They already offered to cover the full cost again for three years. And they would have provided three planes, not just one. They were rebuffed.
Baltimore’s murder rate remains off the charts, logging hundreds more homicides than even New York City, which is fifteen times as large. The vast majority of those killings are attributable to gang violence. The planes, with both normal daylight and nighttime infrared capabilities, are well suited to tracking gang violence on the streets. But the city is going to rebuff this offer of a free solution to some of their worst problems because they’re worried about the police filming what goes on in public?
People have been demanding answers to the skyrocketing murder rate in Baltimore as well as other troubled cities like Chicago. Now someone comes along and offers to make a gift that’s been proven effective to the city out of their own pockets, and they’re told to stay away? I’m quickly running out of sympathy for the city of Baltimore. They’ve got a violent crime rate that makes some war zones look safe and if they can’t take yes for an answer when a free solution comes along, perhaps they deserve their fate.