Police set to use aerial surveillance during Fleet Week, Baltimore Marathon - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Oct. 10, 2016 12:11 pm

Police set to use aerial surveillance during Fleet Week, Baltimore Marathon

The system that sparked controversy in August is coming back — this time without the secrecy.

Baltimore from above.

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Baltimore Police announced one more plane that will be in the air over Baltimore during Fleet Week as it begins Monday.

During a week when the Blue Angels and other military aircraft are set to dazzle crowds below, a small plane equipped with aerial surveillance that generated controversy when it was revealed in August will also be in the air.

The Cessna, which is run by Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems, is equipped with cameras that can view about 32 square miles of the city at a time. From January to early August, it was flown about 100 times for a total of 300 hours to be used in criminal investigations. But it wasn’t disclosed until a Bloomberg Businessweek article in late August shed light on the privacy fiasco.

After the report, the police department faced criticism from elected officials and the state public defender’s office — which said it didn’t previously know that the technology was in use. Civil rights groups like the ACLU have raised concerns about the far-reaching capabilities of the cameras.

On Friday, police announced plans to use the plane ahead of time, and identified another use. This week, it will be used to monitor Fleet Week as well as the Baltimore Running Festival, which includes Saturday’s Baltimore Marathon. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the technology has use for homeland security.

“We have spoken more about this aerial camera technology assisting us in local cases of violent crime, but it is also an opportunity to have more of an impact from a homeland security perspective,” Davis said.

Davis said there is no immediate threat for the events, but the plane is being flown “out of an abundance of caution” in light of recent events in Nice, France, and New York.

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The surveillance technology cannot see individual faces, but can be used in coordination with CitiWatch cameras on the ground to potentially make identifications, Davis said. As detailed in the Bloomberg report, Persistent Surveillance Systems can review the footage after a crime at the request of police.

On Friday, Davis also sought to characterize the technology as a way to “police smarter” in light of the U.S. Department of Justice report that found a history of unconstitutional policing in the city.

“The old days of taking a look at a spike of violence in a community and throwing hundreds or dozens of cops at a geography … we have to move away from that type of policing,” Davis said. “I just believe that taking advantage of this technology opportunity was a prudent thing to do.”

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. While there, he also wrote for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. He was previously a reporter for the Rio Grande Sun of Northern New Mexico.

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