Baltimore Officials Pitched On Putting Three Surveillance Planes In The Sky At Once, Covering Most Of City

from The Baltimore Sun

The head of an aerial surveillance company is pitching Baltimore officials on flying not one but three camera-laden planes above the city simultaneously, covering most of the city and its violent crime, he said in emails obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

A pair of Texas donors have stepped forward to help fund three planes and extra police, 40 local analysts and oversight personnel if there is city buy-in, the records and interviews show. The effort aims to “demonstrate the effectiveness” of such an all-seeing surveillance system in fighting crime in the city.

The enlarged scope of the three-year, $6.6 million surveillance pitch was welcomed by supporters and denounced by detractors contacted by The Sun.

Ross McNutt of Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems said in emails to officials in Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s office that most City Council members had expressed their support for the surveillance planes, though several council members denied it. No decision has been made.

Each plane would be capable of recording up to 32 square miles at a time, and each would fly 45 to 50 hours a week, McNutt said.

“With these three coverage areas, we would be able to cover areas that include 80 to 90 percent of the murders and shootings in Baltimore,” McNutt wrote in an email last month to Sheryl Goldstein, Young’s deputy chief of staff.

More here.

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7 Responses to Baltimore Officials Pitched On Putting Three Surveillance Planes In The Sky At Once, Covering Most Of City

  1. Kevin Orcutt November 8, 2019 at 8:42 pm #

    This article shows how two monetary donors from Texas are funding a program which would put three surveillance planes over the city of Baltimore. The reason officials are brining to public for why this program has been proposed and trying to put in action is because of the dangers within the city. The article states how Baltimore is on track to see more than 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row. Violence is a huge problem which is understandable as to why officials would want to try and take drastic measures to try and combat these homicides and criminal activities. The issue with this program, in light of trying to do good for the city, is the invasion of privacy that comes with this surveillance system. Not only are these planes looking at the individuals that commit criminal activities and homicides, but they are looking at the rest of the citizens of the city. Most of these citizens have done absolutely nothing wrong to warrant them being surveilled throughout the entire day without rightful cause. This can almost relate back to the first TID we wrote in this class about the terrorist watch list. Individuals were put on a terrorist watch list that did not necessarily belong there which caused them to be monitored. These people are going to get monitored without having done anything to be monitored. The planes are expected to cover eighty to ninety percent of things that go on in the city which means that almost everything you do, unless under a canopy or in a building, will be caught on camera. The fact of whether or not public safety outweighs personal privacy comes into play here which many people have voiced their opinion of it being to far. The civil liberties advocates in the article call for it being an outright violation of the citizens’ individual rights, which I agree with. Allowing this constant surveillance would warrant the same thing in other areas of our life until there is no privacy. This kind of information in the wrong hands would be horrible for the American people because we will lose any and all control that we have left in the government in our country.

  2. Shamar K November 8, 2019 at 8:54 pm #

    Baltimore is known to be one of America’s most dangerous cities. In an article written by USA today, it is ranked as the third most dangerous city in America. This new proposal that has been pitched to Baltimore officials sounds very promising. We are in an age of exponential digital/technological growth. The fact that there is a possibility of surveillance planes being implemented into the crime watch and legal system of a city that needs all the help it can is amazing and innovative. Although no decision has been made, from reading the article it seems that most officials and council members are in favor of the investment. From a typical citizen from a urban area, I would be entirely open to this new proposal. From reading the article most of the opposing thoughts and feelings are coming from members who believe that the 6.6 million dollars should be invested into programs and equipment that have been “proven” to work. Such technologies include license plate tracking and the city’s CitiWatch cameras. Well clearly these programs and systems have not had a significant change in the crime occurring in Baltimore since it is still amongst the most dangerous cities. The fact of the matter is that the government in Baltimore have to be open to change. The creator of the program and the surveillance planes, Ross McNutt, says that his product has captured 5 homicides and 18 shootings in the year 2016. It will be much more difficult for criminals to escape the tracking of a drone in the sky and it will increase the surveillance by a significant amount. The program has also been used to prove innocence and help challenge police statements. This is a major tool that can help the war on crime in a city that desperately needs it. If it’s a wasted investment, then who really cares. There is nothing but good intention behind it.

  3. nicole shubaderov November 9, 2019 at 1:42 pm #

    This article just explained the most invasive thing imaginable. These planes will have constant surveillance of the people in Baltimore during the entirety of the daylight hours. What this means is that every person will have their actions monitored, even if they are not conducting in criminal activity, the plane will record everything they do. So, if you enjoy tanning in your backyard, these planes will be able to record you. What happened to the idea that we need our right to privacy protected? People are constantly crying out for data protection and the need for other privacy protection when it comes to cameras watching them on the streets. Such as shown with the TID about the terrorist watchlist, and people’s right to privacy from being placed arbitrarily on the lists and being monitored. And although this may benefit the city of Baltimore, it was said in the article that no proof of this “plane system” in the test run in 2016 proved to be of actual use. The camera quality is 1 pixel, so you cannot identify people. If you cannot identify people, you can only see houses and areas that the crimes took place. Therefore, many of these crimes may have victims that are assumed to be criminals because of the lack of full evidence that shows that they participated in criminal acts. So, this just shows the inevitable battle between the protection of privacy for everyday people and the security of a town.

    In my opinion, if they are going to do something it would be more beneficial to invest the large sum of money being funded into cameras and license plate readers, like the article suggested at one point. Although this still breaches the privacy of people, it would make sense to place these monitoring devices where crime happens at the highest frequency. Therefore, it prevents every individual in Baltimore from being affected by the monitoring. The entire city of Baltimore may not be entirely terrible with crime; therefore, it would make the most sense to put the most amount of funding and devices where crime is statistically proven to happen most. It is not fair to the neighborhoods where crime happens maybe once a year to have them be under full surveillance. Although I do not believe that the crime stricken areas should be under full monitoring either, it would make better sense to have the cameras and license plate readers in those dangerous areas than in every neighborhood there. Additionally, if the people of Baltimore agree to the monitoring to keep them safe, then that is their choice. As elections prove, people use the majority of things to rule for things. Therefore, if the majority of Baltimore residents agree to the monitoring, that is on them. But it would be best to think this through and to use their resources properly because the plane idea just doesn’t seem fair and practical. A 1-pixel video from the sky may only track routes, but faces and seeing what people may look like in build is more beneficial to the solving of crimes than anything. But it is time for the government to stop using “monitoring crimes” as a way to justify the full surveillance of American citizens. Sooner or later we will become a North Korea where monitoring the people will become a norm and that is not just, especially when we all have a right to privacy under the law. People need to stop giving away their rights this easily because we will become a Big Brother society, and that is not what the land of the free entails.

  4. Corinne Roonan November 11, 2019 at 1:11 pm #

    Yes, I understand that the planes are being used to “monitor violence,” but is that really necessary? What is a plane in the sky going to do about a murder happening in the city of Baltimore. I see how this is almost a violation of privacy, but I do not think it is, considering how much of our privacy is already taken while walking in any city by personal home cameras, business cameras, and other monitoring devices. What is a plane going to do in comparison to how much of our privacy is already taken away from us?
    What a bleak view. It is a true one though. This is not about the issue of privacy being taken away by planes, this is an issue of privacy in general. Not to say that surveillance cameras on private property are not a right of the owner of that property, but let’s face things for what they are. Those surveillance products are constantly viewing everything, which takes away the privacy of those walking by, having personal conversations, looking at an important piece of paper, or texting a personal message (which is silly because all of the data on our phone does not belong to us anyway and thus is not private.)
    Like Nicole said in her comment, the American level of surveillance and its’ continuation in growth is only going to turn us into an enemy of ourselves. It starts small with cameras, flows into our data and technology usage, and then it becomes airplanes and other over the top means of surveillance.

  5. Jackson Beltrandi November 13, 2019 at 12:26 am #

    As someone who was born and raised for most of my childhood in Baltimore county, this is something that hits close to home. Baltimore is a top 5 U.S. city in gun violence, and second in murders per capita (51/100k). Although many will not like the increase in taxes, I think that the plan to have three spy plans hover over the city is a good idea. As the plan is only 3 years, $6.6 million, I think that is a relatively affordable option and short plan to test how efficient this idea is at stopping and providing justice to crime in Baltimore. What is even better about this plan is that donors (from Texas) will pick up the tab on the three-year plan. This way, it saves Maryland taxpayers from carrying the burden of providing the funding for this plan. The chief surveillance officer of the company that proposed this idea states, “With these three coverage areas, we would be able to cover areas that include 80 to 90 percent of the murders and shootings in Baltimore.” So why wouldn’t we want to have this pitched idea come into action?
    I personally would not care about the tax increase or privacy if I was a law-abiding resident in the city of Baltimore. If you are someone who obeys the law, then this idea should not bother you. Although, I can see how someone would feel their privacy is invaded if their every step is being watched by the government. However, there are many positive aspects of this idea which come to mind. First off, this takes extreme pressure off of the Baltimore police department. The PD in Baltimore have the tough task of covering these dangerous areas, to try and prevent crime in the act. As we already know, this can be dangerous as many of these criminals are armed and a police officer is the last of their worries. With the surveillance planes, we can protect officers by watching over every block, which will prevent officers from entering dangerous areas by doing ride-arounds. This will also save tax dollars, as the Police can put their time towards more important efforts in the community. Many community leaders, such as Millie Brown, stand behind McNutt’s plan to watch over the city because of the dramatic toll gun violence has taken over their lives. I think it is a great tool which if used correctly, can really protect the streets of Baltimore.

  6. Samantha Russo November 14, 2019 at 11:14 am #

    When I first read the headline and the small portion of the plan, I was upset for the people of Baltimore to have their privacy taken away so quickly at the hands of these three planes. I assumed that all day, during every hour of the day, the people of Baltimore would be watched by these surveillance planes, having their privacy basically taken away from them, even if they are innocent. After reading more of the article and seeing that these planes would be able to cover about 80-90% of murders and shootings in Baltimore, my feelings changed a little bit. This bit of information makes it easy to see why officials in Baltimore might think these planes are a good idea.
    On the side of the Baltimore Sun’s website right next to this article are more articles, with headlines like “Baltimore hits 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row” and “teenager shot to death in Southwest Baltimore.” These are just two of the headlines in a collection of them about the violence and deaths in the city. After seeing stuff like this, it’s hard for me to see why having these planes might be a bad idea. While you do have to deal with your privacy being lost to them, is it really such a bad thing if you could even cut the homicides and shootings in half for a single year? I feel like I would be much safer living in a city that was constantly under watch instead of living in fear of the next shooting. I think there should be some sort of solution to make the innocent citizens of Baltimore happy and not have to worry about constantly being watched but also allowing these planes to circle Baltimore and try and stop these unnecessary deaths and problems from happening again.

  7. Joe Antonucci November 15, 2019 at 8:38 pm #

    I take a hard stance on privacy generally, but I do acknowledge that privacy can be reasonably violated if there is a legitimate security threat.

    It goes without saying that Baltimore’s existence is essentially a security threat.

    Baltimore has been crime-ridden for as long as I can remember, and the same goes for a few other places in the country that applaud themselves when less than 10 people die over any given weekend (i.e. Chicago).

    Having planes fly over the more violent parts of the city will, in my view, have two positive outcomes: Criminals may, to some extent, be deterred from committing crimes (at least out in the open). Secondly, those who do commit their crimes will be on camera doing it, and that leaves some room to potentially track them down and get them off the streets.

    I do believe that if the murder rate falls substantially, these planes should be done away with, because it truly is a privacy violation for everyone living in those areas that are not shooting other people.

    That said, if I was a resident of Baltimore I would applaud these measures, because in one way or another it will make my community safer and perhaps thwart the people who are making it unsafe.

    I understand that evildoers in government who wish to violate privacy and spy on normal people will make up excuses for doing so — take a look at the Patriot Act — but in this case, I see an observable, obvious threat so I can rest assured that I’m not being lied to about something that doesn’t even exist.

    I sympathize strongly with opponents of this, because it must be unsettling to imagine that you’re being watched at all times if you’re outside. If you are simply living in your neighborhood, going to school, going to work, and hanging out with your friends, you definitely do not want the government watching you. To those people, I would say two things. First, surveillance is already quite common in these areas. CCTV recording covers a large portion of the public areas, I would imagine. Having these planes flying over would allow for people running from the scene of a crime to be tracked more efficiently as they drive or run out of view of the CCTV cameras. Second, I would prefer being watched by the government while I mow my lawn than by some criminal who is about to put a bullet in me.

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