Baltimore’s network of 24-hour surveillance cameras, already monitoring the city’s Inner Harbor, is being expanded to cover three high-crime corridors and a Canton waterfront, the Baltimore Sun reports. The cameras, an outgrowth of a regional homeland security initiative, eventually will be part of a surveillance network spanning five counties, an expansive system criticized by privacy advocates. The $3 million announced this week 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. Once the patchwork of cameras and monitoring rooms is knitted together, the Baltimore regional system could be one of the most extensive surveillance systems undertaken in the nation, officials at the Electronic Privacy Information Center said.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the camera system infringes on privacy rights and is ineffective in fighting crime or terrorism. “The money would be better spent on police on the streets,” said an ACLU spokeswoman. City officials say the cameras will monitor only public spaces. “The opposite of the fear of Big Brother is true,” said Kristen Mahoney, director of the Baltimore Police Department’s grants and government relations section. “I’ve had a number of private groups asking if their neighborhood could be the next to get the cameras.” City officials contend that the new cameras will have the same impact on reducing crime as privately financed surveillance networks in downtown and portions of Greektown. In those instances, crime has declined 25 percent to 40 percent. 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.