Baltimore Expands Use of Surveillance Cameras beyond Inner Harbor

Three high-crimes areas and Canton waterfront to be added to city's network of surveillance


BALTIMORE (AP) -- The city's network of 24-hour surveillance cameras monitoring the Inner Harbor will be expanded to cover three high-crime areas and the Canton waterfront, officials said Wednesday.

The cameras are part of a regional homeland security initiative announced in June. They eventually will be part of a surveillance network spanning five counties and stretching from the Inner Harbor to the Bay Bridge.

The $3 million addition that the city Board of Estimates announced Wednesday is aimed more at criminals than at terrorists and is being financed mostly by proceeds seized from drug dealers and not by homeland security grants.

But when the patchwork of cameras and monitoring rooms is linked, the proposed Baltimore regional system could be one of the most extensive surveillance systems in the nation, according to officials at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the Baltimore network, saying the camera system infringes on privacy rights and is ineffective in fighting crime or terrorism.

``Americans have a real strong sense of privacy rights and are really offended by efforts to breach those rights,'' said Stacey Mink, a spokeswoman for ACLU of Maryland. ``The money would be better spent on police on the streets.''

City officials say the cameras will monitor only public spaces.

Once the terms of a deal are negotiated, Tele-Tector of Maryland Inc. will install 74 cameras that will provide 24-hour surveillance in three high-crime neighborhoods. Each system will be monitored by light-duty officers and community volunteers at police districts. A separate contract needs to be negotiated for the Canton camera system.

``We're talking about 20 square blocks that account for 6 percent of the total violent crime in the city,'' acting Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said.

The Downtown Partnership's network of 80 cameras, which are reviewed periodically but not monitored, led to a 25 percent reduction in crime from 2001 to 2002, the most recent years that data were available, spokesman Mike Evitts said.

Community activist Naomi Hines said she welcomes the cameras in her Park Heights neighborhood, which she said is overrun by drug dealers.

``They might just go on the side streets to deal,'' said Hines, who has lived in the area for 33 years. ``You run them from one place, and they go to another place.''

But, she added, ``It's worth trying.''

In June, the city announced that it was building a network of about 80 cameras in downtown's west side and in the Inner Harbor that would be able to connect to the state's system of closed-circuit cameras that monitor highways. Eventually, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties and Annapolis would plug their systems into the city's hub.