Inside Baltimore's CitiWatch program

Serving as a backdrop for last week's Secured Cities conference, Baltimore's CitiWatch program is one of the most sophisticated municipal surveillance networks in the country.

According to Baltimore Police Lt. Samuel Hood, the CitiWatch program was launched in 2005 by former mayor Martin O'Malley with an initial deployment of 50 cameras. The program now integrates 538 cameras from across the city into the Criminal Intelligence Watch Center located inside Baltimore Police Department headquarters.

The cameras are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by specially-trained CCTV operators, many of whom are retired police officers.

"This is crucial, they have the prerequisite knowledge to deal with officers on the street," Hood said.

The city's CCTV operators are also extensively trained on variety of subjects including narcotics, radio communications and uniform crime reporting. Hood said that CitiWatch utilizes crime statistics for camera deployments and that the daily operations of the program are based on crime analysis reports. According to Hood, all current investigations are cross-referenced with camera locations.

In addition to being able to monitor any live camera feed in the city, Hood said that CitiWatch can also view recorded footage for every camera, which is stored for 28 days. The video is recorded at a rate of 15-30 frames-per-second and all video evidence is burned offsite, per the city's CCTV policy.

"If you stick a thumb drive in a camera terminal you are terminated," he said. "We have to have control of custody of our evidence at all times."
As a part of the Secured Cities conference, attendees were allowed to take a walking tour of the watch center facility to get a first-hand look at how the BPD ties together its surveillance network.

Aside from camera monitoring, the center's primary responsibilities are managing various databases and serving as a central command post for special events, such as parades and protests. The center itself is broken down into two sections, an operational side and a strategic side, which are separated by glass.

Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner John Skinner, who welcomed conference attendees to the center, said that the advancement in surveillance technology have been "huge" for their department. He said that as police work becomes more complex and the economy takes a toll on budgets that police everywhere are going to have to get the most of the resources at their disposal.

According to Hood, the system is helping to catch crimes that wouldn't have been previously reported such as the robbery of drug dealers. In 2010, there were 1,282 camera-initiated or assisted arrests in Baltimore and there have been 1,080 thus far in 2011.

"No more anonymity, not in Baltimore, not downtown," Hood said.

In the future, Hood said the city plans to integrate CitiWatch with its Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system and to also utilize license plate recognition and gunshot detection technology in conjunction with the network.