A Recent Report Concludes Baltimore Police Aerial Surveillance Has Promise And Should Be Studied More


A secret aerial surveillance program in Baltimore collects footage, offering hundreds of potential leads in a wide range of crimes. The Baltimore police said the footage collected last year proved to be very valuable for investigations of three homicides and seven shootings.

Footage shot from a high-flying plane provided police with the locations of nearby ground-level cameras. When recorded footages was collected from the cameras, police were able to identify four “primary people or vehicles” at the scene of a homicide.

The Washington-based Police Foundation recommends the city conduct “a rigorous evaluation” of whether the program could be incorporated into criminal investigations in a transparent and cost-efficient manner. The successes of the surveillance could potentially increase the clearance of crimes and reduce criminal investigations costs.


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“Baltimore’s leadership must decide if the technology employed by the [the surveillance program] is worth the inherent challenges in using it,” the foundation concluded in the report. “They must determine — ideally with the assistance of a rigorous scientific evaluation — if they can effectively control crime with this program in a way that also increases community trust and confidence in the police.”

As the Baltimore Police Department considers moving forward, the report conducted by Persistent Surveillance Systems, an Ohio-based private contractor, provides a better light on the pilot surveillance program.

According to a police spokesman, T.J. Smith, the Police Department has not yet made a decision on “the future use” of the aerial surveillance program and will “comb through this report”, before it does.

The crime-solving and crime-fighting tool was at first utilized in an experiment to better understand its value. Before the program becomes permanent, police officials want to seek broad public input.

The program utilized a Cessna airplane, with an array of cameras to complete the surveillance. The plane was flown at roughly 8,000 feet above the city. The cameras were capable of capturing footage of 32 square males over the course of hundreds of hours.

The Baltimore police did not disclose the program to the public, which frustrated civil liberties advocates, whom said the program invaded individuals’ privacy. The program empowered police to track residents, without warrants and with little to no oversight.

Commissioner Kevin Davis responded by saying the program was not a secret, but merely an expansion of the CitiWatch system. Davis said the department could have done a better job of informing key stakeholders.

The pilot program was funded by a $360,000 donation by Houston-based philanthropists Laura and John Arnold.

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