Baltimore Trial Shows Ineffectiveness Of Cameras, GPS


A Baltimore jury convicted a 17-year-old yesterday for shooting a 5-year-old girl last summer, but the case threw a spotlight on serious deficiencies in the high-tech monitoring devices authorities rely on to deter criminals and to aid in investigating crimes, says Andy Green of the Baltimore Sun. Prosecutors presented evidence from both a pole-mounted surveillance camera that snapped image of the shooting in progress and from the GPS ankle bracelet the defendant was required to wear in home detention, but this was hardly an episode of “CSI: Baltimore.”

Footage from the camera didn't reveal the kind of crisp, clear images that would have instantly identified the girl’s attacker. Even the computer-enhanced version of the tape viewed by jurors was in no way comparable to the space-age satellite cameras of the military, which reportedly can read a license plate from 100 miles up. The police camera couldn't so much as read a face from 100 feet away – even though Baltimore has poured more $15 million into such devices since 2004. Even more unsettling was the dismal performance of the GPS monitoring system that was supposed to keep track of the defendant’s movements by means of an ankle bracelet strapped to his leg. Not only couldn't the system tell where he was if he stepped more than a few feet away from the transponder installed in his apartment but the company that monitored his movements was located in Nebraska and wasn't required to alert officials when a detainee it was tracking went “off the grid.” The $3 million gamble strapped to the teen’s ankle proved utterly incapable of protecting the community from him. The Baltimore Police Department ought to review the effectiveness of its system of surveillance cameras around the city, which cost $1.2 million a year to operate, Green says.

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