Baltimore expands its video surveillance program

Baltimore is bolstering its CitiWatch video surveillance program, with the addition of 12 new cameras to the city’s culturally significant Pennsylvania Avenue, bringing the total number of cameras in Baltimore to 538.

“Our CitiWatch program has been instrumental in supporting the work of the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department to reduce violent crime,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a release.

The camera program has reduced crime by 25 percent in coverage areas. in 2010 it assisted with over 1,282 arrests, including more than 125 arrests for violent crimes such as robberies, assaults and illegal gun possession, according to city’s release.

Rawlings-Blake plans to add 30 cameras along other major thoroughfares in the city and, despite budget shortfalls, the city has budgeted to hire 300 police officers to support CitiWatch. Baltimore has a central monitoring strategy with a group of specially trained monitors and analysts watching feeds 24 hours a day, Government Technology reported.

“Obviously, you can’t monitor all 538 cameras all the time, so there is a monitoring plan based on crime [statistics], and that’s how monitoring resources are deployed,” Sheryl Goldstein, director of Baltimore’s Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, said in the article. “We have a crime analyst that looks at crime trends in all the camera areas, and based on that there is a monitoring plan every day which the [CitiWatch] center uses.”

The new cameras and supporting infrastructure are funded by a Federal Justice Assistance Block Grant and the One Maryland Broadband grant, administered by Howard County. The total cost of the program is approximately $1.3 million annually, Goldstein said. It is fully funded in the mayor’s fiscal 2012 budget.

However, while police departments around the country — including Chicago; Washington; Lancaster, Pa.; and Victorville, Calif. — are installing the cameras to reduce crimes, questions regarding their potential for invasion of privacy remain. In 2009 Cambridge, Mass., halted the activation of eight surveillance cameras over privacy concerns. Similarly, the American Civil Liberties Union has voiced concerns over who controls the cameras and what is done with the images they collect.

In June, Chicago announced it had installed additional video cameras in its financial district to fight terrorism, adding to the more than 10,000 already in the city.

Goldstein, however, said privacy concerns have not been a community issue in the city. “Baltimore, unlike some other cities...has not really had that problem…," she said. "The biggest issue is we have communities that want cameras and we’re not able to put cameras in. We’re fortunate that there is a tremendous amount of community support for the camera program.”

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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