Civic News
Crime / Privacy / Technology

Group pushing to get Baltimore surveillance plane back in the air: report

The plane stopped flying amid concerns about privacy and transparency. Backers now say the plane can help prevent police misconduct, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Baltimore from above. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

A surveillance plane flying over Baltimore came back to Earth in 2016 after a revelation and subsequent backlash.
In recent months, there’s been a new push for the eye in the sky. According to a new report from the Baltimore Sun, a group led by West Baltimore resident Archie Williams and plane operator Ross McNutt of Persistent Surveillance Systems are making presentations to community groups.
So what’s changed? Namely, the pitch. In the wake of revelations about police misconduct, Williams said the plane’s wide-angle view capabilities could be used to deter wrongdoing by police, as well as crime. McNutt also told the paper he’s collected private donations to keep the plane aloft for a year. The mayor’s office and police have not made moves to restart the program at this time.
The plane’s flights were revealed by in a Bloomberg article that detailed how the Cessna’s technology could see 32 square miles at a time from 8,000 ft., and visited Persistent Surveillance Systems’ staff of analysts that recalled and reviewed certain incidents on request from police. It also pointed out that the program wasn’t made public. The report led to an outcry, with privacy concerns front and center. Police said at the time that the early flights were a test, and halted the flights.
McNutt has said it’s a way to help police reduce crime in a city that saw record homicides last year. While several community members voiced support, not all doubters were convinced. ACLU of Maryland Senior Staff Attorney David Rocah told the Sun that the program is “one of the most stunningly cynical and revolting attempts to profit off misery that I have ever heard of in my entire life.”
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