The Baltimore Police Department has started a six-month program testing aerial surveillance that covers 90 percent of the city—the technology is provided by a private company and sponsored by private donors…
We actually found out that Baltimore had already been using aerial surveillance back in 2016, and at the time they were also working with the company Persistence Surveillance. So now that they have the approval for this test, it could be used to pitch similar surveillance in cities across the country.
Retired Baltimore Police Supervisor and author, Dr. Michael Wood Jr., warned that this technology isn’t just being considered in Baltimore. “This company has quite an Orwellian name, Persistence Surveillance, so it kind of sets the stage for what we’re talking about,” he said.
“But this is not new to Baltimore, and it’s not confined to Baltimore. This has been going on between the Baltimore and Chicago PD, and these two agencies continue to plan and advice each other. It’s like the blind leading the blind,” Dr. Wood continued.
The most glaring concern is that this technology will capture and record people living their daily lives even if they are not suspected of committing a crime. Dr. Wood also noted that it all comes back to accountability for the police departments that have access to the technology.
“It’s about who controls the tool, like with body cameras or traffic cameras or warrants or anything else police do, sure it will catch criminals, and that is great, but what about when we are using it to hunt down your social distancing violations or to monitor your political rivals, or tracking down everyone who went to your backyard barbecue,” he said.
Now, we are at a time when the majority of the country is still under stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, so there is concern that if police have footage of every time you leave your house or make a run to the grocery store, it could create an entirely new kind of conflict.
We have seen a number of issues with accountability and transparency within the Baltimore Police Department that echo concerns across the country. I spoke earlier with Maryland State Sen. Cory McCray, and he said a major issue that state legislators are currently working to correct is the requirement of an audit for the department.
“We put in a bill that basically said that the state, the state of Maryland has to conduct audits on the Baltimore City Police Department in a set number of years during a set criteria, looking at things like overtime, looking at things like the confiscation of materials, looking at different checks and balances that would benefit, not just the city of Baltimore, but the state of Maryland as well,” he said.
Sen. McCray also said legislators have come together in support of a bill that would require high-ranking police officials to live within city limits—something other city agencies already require.
“As someone that’s born and raised in the city of Baltimore and representing the 45th legislative district on the east side of Baltimore, I think it is very important for those folks that serve the community, that actually collect a paycheck from the community, that’s on the Baltimore city’s payroll to live where they work,” he said.
There is hope that there could be some reforms coming to the Baltimore Police Department within the next year, but accountability over aerial surveillance is adding yet another issue to the list.