After a number of fits and starts, the city of Baltimore launched a program in April of last year aimed at helping to reduce the city’s staggering violent crime problem. The project involved a pair of surveillance planes with sophisticated video tracking systems that were able to record the movement of people and vehicles across the area. When crimes were reported, the system could quickly identify individuals and automobiles in the vicinity and track them to where they went next, allowing for the rapid location and identification of potential suspects. The pilot program ran for six months and cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing. But now the municipal government has announced that it is cutting ties with the company providing these services and will not continue this effort. (CBS Baltimore)
The Baltimore City Board of Estimates on Wednesday unanimously approved ending the city’s agreement with the company undertaking the controversial aerial surveillance program…
“You know, there’s a lot of reasons for that, but overall, given that preliminary analysis, it further led to us the decision to separate,” Baltimore Police Department Chief of Staff Eric Melancon said.
A more thorough report is due out next spring.
This is just insane. Baltimore’s new Mayor, Brandon Scott, has been opposed to this plan from the beginning, starting back when he was on the City Council. He’s claiming that there’s “no evidence” that the program is effective, despite a preliminary study showing that the surveillance system was used to solve eleven serious crimes (including murders) in the six months that it was active. With more experience and the opportunity to incorporate this type of data into routine police procedures, those numbers could have risen higher.
The real reason for the cancellation had nothing to do with its efficacy. Social justice activists claimed from the beginning that the surveillance program was racist and represented the government “spying” on its citizens. The ACLU even filed a lawsuit claiming that the system was in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. That was a nonsensical claim from the start because the cameras were only monitoring the movement of people and traffic out in the public square where everyone’s expectation of privacy is vastly reduced.
Also, the government’s position on this matter is distinctly in the minority. A local pastor who has been working to reduce violent crime commissioned a survey in 2019 and found that a staggering 70% of Charm City residents were in favor of using the planes to cut crime, including a significant majority of Black residents.
To top it all off, as we’ve noted here previously, the entire program was paid for by a pair of philanthropists from Texas. They even covered the additional cost of overtime for the police and establishing a commission designed to monitor the program and ensure there were no privacy violations. The taxpayers were literally getting this entire service for free.
Baltimore is still breaking records for murders each year that haven’t been seen in decades. The per capita murder rate is the highest in the country. It’s even higher than the annual murder rate in Kabul. Even if the surveillance system “only” solved eleven major violent crime cases last year, doesn’t the Mayor think that’s better than having those eleven cases go unsolved? Brandon Scott has only been on the job for a couple of months, but he ran on a platform of promising to reduce the city’s staggering murder rate and gang violence problems. Fighting to eliminate one of the tools designed to do precisely that is pretty much the opposite of what he promised. And now Baltimore has arguably been made even less safe than it was before thanks to the new Mayor’s actions.