Earlier this year we looked at a law enforcement program in Baltimore that put a plane up above the city almost around the clock. It was equipped with a high definition video camera and was able to monitor crime scenes and track criminals back to where they came from and/or to their destinations after the crime. And the best part of it was that it was absolutely free to the taxpayers, being funded by a private grant. But some Democrats objected to having an “eye in the sky” and it was abandoned. When the offer was renewed for the same free program again this summer, the new Police Commissioner dismissed it out of hand.
One local pastor disagreed with the decision, saying that he had heard from plenty of people saying they thought it was a great idea. But rather than relying on anecdotal evidence, he obtained a grant to pay for a professional survey to be done. When the results came back, his beliefs were verified. An overwhelming percentage of the public, including persons of color, were totally in favor of bringing the plane back. (Baltimore Sun)
Of 500 residents polled, 74% said they would generally support “a program to conduct aerial surveillance over the city of Baltimore to reduce serious crimes like murder.” Twenty percent said they would oppose such a program, with 6% unsure.
The numbers barely budged — to 72% in support, 23% opposed — when respondents were given a more detailed description: “A small aircraft flies over the city and provides images that track vehicles and people to and from reported crime scenes. The information is then provided to the Baltimore Police Department to help them solve crimes. An outside independent oversight group would ensure that the system is not being abused, and the program would be entirely paid for by a private donor.”
Those are just ridiculous numbers for almost any public opinion survey. It’s hard to get seventy percent of the population to agree on whether or not puppies are cute these days. To see so many of them in favor of this plan is remarkable and totally contrary to the attitude on display in City Hall and in the police leadership.
To sweeten the deal even further (and highlight how silly the opposition is) the program would once again be completely free. The same Texas husband and wife philanthropist team, John and Laura Arnold, are offering to pay for three planes providing round the clock coverage. They’re also offering to cover the costs of any overtime or extra personnel required to process and analyze the video data. And if anyone has any concerns over how the video is being used, they even volunteered to fund a public committee to provide oversight.
Despite all that, the Chief of Police and members of the City Council are rejecting the plan. And it’s a plan that we now know is supported by nearly three-quarters of the residents of the city.
Baltimore is still suffering from a plague of gun violence that’s reached biblical proportions. Gun crimes are precisely the sort of thing this surveillance system was built for. Once a shooting is identified and police know the time and location, the video footage can trace all the cars and pedestrian traffic at the crime scene. People can be traced back to where they came from originally as well as revealing where they headed after it all went down.
If the cops like it (they did) and it’s effective in solving crimes, and if the public supports it, why is the city leadership still turning their nose up? Particularly when it’s free. The residents of Baltimore seriously need to get together and start electing some smarter people who are willing to listen to the will of the public.