When surveillance cameras were first deployed in Baltimore, officials said they would help convince skeptical juries about a suspect’s guilt and deter crime, says Baltimore Sun crime reporter Peter Hermann. Rather, the extensive and still expanding surveillance network has evolved into more of a better way for police and prosecutors to locate and question witnesses and suspects and stitch together otherwise disparate clues. “I’ve never had a case in which a video was a slam-dunk,” said prosecutor Rich Gibson.
This month, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley released a report on surveillance cameras used by the city of San Francisco and came to the same conclusion. The Urban Institute in Washington is conducting a similar study in Baltimore and two other cities and could issue findings in a matter of months. Baltimore prosecutors and police have been at odds for years over the usefulness of the more than 300 police cameras on city streets. The state’s attorney’s office says the cops hyped video surveillance as savior to the crime problem. Police argue the cameras are a crucial deterrent that allows them to watch areas that can’t be continuously monitored by patrol officers. Baltimore more than other cities monitors surveillance cameras in real time and sometimes catches criminals in the act, says the mayor’s office.