Monday, February 13, 2017

Baltimore Police Department: It would be foolish not to pursue aerial surveillance

It wasn't unveiled until last summer, but a Cessna plane has been surveying Baltimore on-and-off since last January. 

The very idea of Persistent Surveillance Systems and its somewhat clumsy reveal to the public was met with a flurry of push back and privacy concerns.

That aside, Baltimore Police commissioner Kevin Davis would use again in a second.

"So that's an easy yes. It is absolutely something we should continue to explore," he said.

And he is not the only one.

Last week a report by the Police Foundation, a group that studies policing through innovation and science released its findings on Baltimore's surveillance pilot from last year.

It too concluded it was “highly suggestive that persistent surveillance technology may prove effective in solving these crimes.”

It was a validating finding Davis flipped to when receiving the report.

"Well I went right to the last paragraph Brian [Kuebler]. I wanted to read their conclusion first and I wasn't surprised at all. I appreciate the Police Foundation and their thoughtful review of this pilot program and their after-action report and it said everything I anticipated it would say," Davis said.

The report found that in 210 flight hours, the technology was able to assist in 105 investigations including five murders.

The view from this aircraft in pictures is more of an assist; the images are only clear enough to see shapes, but when cross referenced with CC-TV cameras on the ground, they become leads. 

Which is important since BPD says more than fifty percent of its murders happen outdoors during daylight hours. It's the reason why the department is now exploring whether or not to fund this surveillance program in next year's budget.

"I think now that we've tried it, now that we have an after action report that seems to indicate that it’s worthwhile and it is something that we should stick with, I think it would be foolish not to pursue some type of aerial camera technology to help us fight violence," Davis said.

Mayor Catherine Pugh also read the report and says she is consulting with Davis on “the final determination on the next steps for the aerial surveillance program.”

But this report also came with recommendations.

Several of them suggest public explanation, transparency, accountability and an assurance of the constitutionality of the program.

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