In the Morrell Park area of southern Baltimore is a block of small businesses and homes where 16 surveillance cameras hang, some inconspicuously, from the sides of buildings and on utility poles.
The Baltimore Sun reports that it is not the police playing Big Brother but rather the residents who are responsible for taping everything that moves. “We’re just trying to make our neighborhoods safer for those of us who live here,” said Terry Smith, of the Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council, which represents six communities that comprise a federal empowerment zone.
The council’s public safety committee, led by Smith, has emerged as one of the most imaginative neighborhood-based crime prevention outfits in Baltimore. And the group is doing it independent of city government. The city operates surveillance cameras in some public areas, but this is the only Baltimore neighborhood group known to operate its own. The public safety committee operates with an annual budget of about $100,000, with the money coming from city, state and federal grants.
The blue-collar areas the council represents are troubled by pockets of drug dealing and nuisance crimes, such as prostitution, loitering and shoplifting, and occasionally more violent crimes such as homicide and serious assault.
A total of 48 cameras are in the community and more are planned next month. In the past year, the committee has purchased nearly 20, 7-foot-tall wrought iron gates to seal off pedestrian alleys, allegedly used as lairs for drug users and prostitutes. And the committee has bolted light fixtures to the side of buildings to brighten street corners at night.