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.

Posted in Law, Privacy and tagged , , .


  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  8. This article makes me uneasy. Especially in Baltimore where there is a higher percentage of impoverished residents, and minorities, it seems like a bad idea to give the police more power. The Baltimore police have a bad history of over aggression to suspects, specifically African American men, (2015’s protests were the result of the police aggressively arresting a man who died a day later). However, my cynicism of the Baltimore Police aside, I also see the point of view of the plan’s supporters. As it states in the article, Baltimore is on track to see 300 homicides for the 5th year in a row. Another point to note is that CCTV cameras are already in place and are a “proven method” for helping catch crime, which some of the criticizers of this law, would prefer the funding go towards those instead. So in reality the privacy is already quite gone in Baltimore, this is just a step towards better security? For me it’s hard because I don’t live in Baltimore, I know I would hate the idea of an eye in the sky above my house or neighborhood, much more than the idea of a camera or two on main streets. At the end of the day, they do seem to want to take the community’s sentiment into account which is a good thing, and maybe by the time they have made the decision to approve it or not, they have some more data on whether or not it’s the best method available to them.

  9. This was a very interesting article about the head of surveillance pitching Baltimore officials on flying three camera-equipped planes over the city at the same time. The surveillance planes would cover most of the city and majority the crime that occurs in its streets. Each plane would cover over 32 miles and operate for over 50 hours per week. This amounts to over 80 to 90 percent of murders and shootings in the city being supervised if the planes are put up.
    It would take 2.2 million dollars per year to fund the operations. The funds would cover the planes being put up, the additional officers to work cases that utilize the surveillance, oversight over the privacy measures, and a University of Baltimore evaluation of the effectiveness of the surveillance in aiding officers and deterring crime.
    However, it is argued by Council President that the money should be used towards more proven techniques like CitiWatch cameras and license plate readers. As homicides rise in the city to over 300 for 5 years straight, more people are for the operation. Back in 2016 they did a similar surveillance program with one plane. In about 300 hours of flight in 2016, the pilot plane captured five homicides and 18 shootings, including two police shootings. The plane also tracked suspects in an assault on an officer as they passed by 75 CitiWatch cameras. That was with just one plane. Who knows what can be done with three? That same question is also the reason pilot program was halted; because of the civil liberties controversy that comes with an all-seeing surveillance system. I too disagree with having 24/7 surveillance over a whole city. I know that they are trying to detect crime and deter it, but what about the law-abiding citizens. They don’t deserve to be spied on. What about if this technology gets in the wrong hands. In corrupt world with criminal activity happening every day, who’s to say the officers in charge of the footage wont use or let the footage be used by others with bad intent. These are all implications with the project, but my biggest concern is privacy.

  10. This article reminds me of TID 1 in which the class discussed the terrorist watchlist and its’ pros and cons. The similarity is both surveillance systems have been created with good intentions, but also can intrude on the privacy of non-criminals. In this case, the question is whether or not Baltimore Maryland would benefit from 3 surveillance planes constantly monitoring the city, and, how would this situation affect everyday residents of Baltimore? Well in terms of cost, there are already two monetary donors from Texas who are willing to fund the entire cost for the 3 planes- so that is taken care of. In terms of safety, Baltimore is supposedly on track for 300 more homicides for the fifth year in a row; in fact, Baltimore is the third most dangerous city in the United States according to a 2019 USA Today “Most Dangerous Cities” list. In this, clearly Baltimore would benefit from an added form of criminal protection. However, I’m not completely sure that three planes is the answer to the high Baltimore crime rate. In 2016 Baltimore used a hidden plane to attempt to lower crime rates, but their attempts failed and crimes were not diminished. Furthermore, McNutty even said that “we have an extensive privacy protection program including limiting the resolution to 1 pixel per person so there is no identifying information on a person only a single dot”, which is good and bad in my opinion. It is good because the officials who are monitoring Baltimore in the planes would not be able to acquire personal information from innocent people. But, would officials also be unable to identify criminals from the sky? If not, how would having these planes really help Baltimore? Honestly, what seems like a more promising way of increasing security in Baltimore is the cities new ShotSpotter system- a gunshot detection system. This system is comprised of “a series of audio sensors on street lights and rooftops listening to five square miles of West Baltimore” which allows the sound, time, and location of booms to be recorded. It also is able to follow suspects from the scene, backward and forward through time. This approach to increase civilian protection seems much less ‘military’ to me- as in there are not planes constantly hovering/monitoring to remind people of the crime in their city, and the technology can track where the criminal ran after committing said crime. Maybe a solution is to install ShotSpotter systems all throughout Baltimore. I am interested to see what protection mechanisms the city ultimately decide to implement.

  11. Coming from the DMV (D.C, Maryland, Virginia), and being around Baltimore, there are certainly good and bad parts of the city. The inner harbor is always nice while the inner city is sketchy if you don’t know where you’re going and if you’re not a regular. The problem of surveillance planes can be seen from different sides. While there is a huge amount of crime in the inner city of Baltimore there should be no need for surveillance as it can be seen as an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, having surveillance planes can be seen as a positive for law enforcement and the city of Baltimore because they will be able to catch criminals easily and be able to scare criminals from coming out and wreaking havoc on society that has caused great disruption and fear in a once great city. I feel that there needs to be an upgrade to new technology for police officers in order to significantly make a difference in crime ridden cities such as Detroit and in this instance Baltimore. Surveillance planes will only cause problems amongst the people and will create even further separation between the police and the people. I feel if they can come together than there will be no further issues. This will define who the good and bad are if they can collectively get along to create a difference amongst their culture. This idea will help eliminate the idea of Baltimore being known as a ‘bad city’ which is a title that they will continue to hold if they don’t figure things out soon. As Detroit seemingly hasn’t gotten better, Baltimore can use this as their opportunity to show that there is still hope, and they can make a difference to not end up as bad as Detroit is currently. Once the city can dome together than they will create change but speaking from my own perspective it’s safe to say that bringing in surveillance planes will cause further disturbance and will cause an uproar from citizens of the city as well as human rights leaders everywhere.

  12. Nowadays, it seems as if our privacy as people is always under some attack. Video cameras are all over the place, hackers being able to get into the cameras on phones and computers, and with the government practically being able to watch our every step online. Now with this new proposed plan in Baltimore, privacy for the residents might as well be an afterthought. According to the article, Baltimore officials pitched on putting three surveillance planes in the sky at once, covering most of the city; there is a group of people pushing to have three surveillance planes that would be able to monitor most the city all through the day. These planes would be able to capture almost any actions by residents and by criminals. Now, of course, the people pushing for this state that the surveillance would only be there to help the officials solve a crime and possibly help lower the city’s high murder rate to make it a safer place so that the city can be more open to tourists.
    Now, this is great and all, who wouldn’t want there to be less crime and have the place they live be safer? Ultimately, however, this wouldn’t be the case; the planes may help solve some crimes and make the city slightly safer. The price that this comes at, however, is far too high, with residents being under surveillance almost anytime they are outside, leading to them virtually having no privacy. While the people behind this idea claim the planes are only for solving crimes that is impossible to insure. These planes would be using some cameras that would be sending the data to a monitoring system that could be taken over by hackers. Or maybe even the employees who work with the planes may take the footage for themselves or perhaps also sell it to some company that is offering to pay them. There is almost a 100% chance that at some point, the photos taken from the planes may have a use for something other than fighting crime.
    At this junction, it is pretty much at what point are people willing to give up their privacy for their safety? Bringing up the question of how much power the government can have, does it have the right to watch our every move? At what point do we lose freedoms so that we are allowed to have surveillance on us almost 24/7 for our safety? Ultimately it is the question would you rather have security or privacy, and that is a profoundly personal question because some view their privacy as safety.

  13. As a big supporter of the ACLU organization I can see the possible infringement on individual privacy, however from an economic standpoint as well as a benefit to community I understand the want for more security surveillance in a place like Baltimore where community members see upward 300 homicides annually. Based on the article it seems that these three drones will fly above the city to watch the inhabitants in an attempt to reduce crime rates. For normal civilians that abide by laws and community guidelines this extent of security seems to be extreme, however in areas where gun violence is at its peak it seems critical for the safety of individuals. This equipment will be able to see where crimes happened and then track the convicts from the crime scene to all of the spots they go and their homes. This method of behaviorism has worked to reduce crime in select prisons because the approach leaves those being watched feeling as if they don’t know when they are being watched and in result they follow the rules. However at the same time that gives the government a lot of control over civilian life as once these people step out of any building they are under constant watch. The article also mentioned however that a lot of people from different groups in the community like mothers who lost their children to gun violence back the installment of this technology because it is free. Personally I believe that the surveillance will benefit the safety of the community without infringing on individual privacy because people are still able to be off these drones cameras when inside of a building. From an economic standpoint this will also benefit the employment rate in Baltimore. The project is said to be completely paid for and an increase of employees to monitor the drones, people to track the data from the drones, and people to respond to the crimes being caught on film. The need for all of these jobs will cause a need for state employees and with those jobs come good pay and state job benefits helping out those who are unemployed in the community. I feel that when dealing with a situation of civil liberties in this case it does not imbreech any privacy rights because of its cause. The overall need for the installment of the security drones support improving the general welfare which makes these security systems acceptable. Currently, gun violence is at an all time high in these areas and this affects how people act and treat each other throughout the community. The drones will be a way to keep individuals in check so that Baltimore can become a safer and more livable region. My only skeptical point of conversation is the reasoning behind the promoters of the software saying certain individuals higher on the political food chain were praising the proposal for the technology when they present publicly to be indifferent. This is concerning to me personally because if the idea was thought to be very impactful on Baltimore, politicians would be more supportive considering a large part of the plan is free of charge.

  14. The effectiveness of putting 3 surveillance planes in the air to manage crime is unknown but Baltimore officials are considering the movement to keep this crime at a minimum or have an effective way of monitoring these activities. I think instead of funding these planes by donation of upwards of 2 million a year, it would be smarter to use this funding for proven tools as the council president had proposed. The city is on track to see more than 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row and I believe that using this money to get more patrol will be more effective than the plane idea considering it will be hard to get facial recognition of a crime when the surveillance is covering over 32 square miles of images and investing in more patrol will put guys on the scene faster than an aircraft message can be relayed. These planes would be active in the daytime and i think that is somewhat unreasonable considering most crimes in Baltimore in 2017 took place at night. The thing it will help with is notifying authorities of locations of shootings and will have an effect by having the ability to keep eyes on the suspects as they flee from the scenes. Following vehicles and routes of suspects will be effective but putting more money towards authority will give them a better chance of arresting the person committing the crime. Baltimore is one of the cities with the highest crime rate and investing this money will make a huge difference. The donation of this money to keep these planes in air will also solve some of the unsolved murders that take place in the city. This will give authorities better chances at securing confessions and have a chance to show if you are wrongfully accused of a murder. I do agree that these cameras will limit privacy and get outrage from the pedestrians, but taking the crime rate down from the past 5 years is the main goal in focus. This has good intentions and will help with solving crime, notifying authorities of crime and utilizing this footage to help in court cases.

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