Baltimore has been divided by the police department’s hopes to record residents from surveillance planes, a drastic proposal to reduce crime in a city where the murder rate remains high and where the police have repeatedly abused their power, reports the New York Times. On Thursday, a judge blocked planes from flying reconnaissance missions after a think tank and two residents challenged the surveillance program, which was approved last week. The lawsuit argues that the planes, which were about to begin a six-month trial run, would violate residents’ constitutional rights to not be searched without cause and to freely associate with others. Police officials say the surveillance footage would be used only after a serious crime has been reported — not to track vehicles or people during a police chase — and that the results of the trial run would be reviewed rigorously. The mayor supports the plan, and a poll showed broad support.
Others remain skeptical, worrying that the program will infringe on their rights and be used more broadly than in the narrow set of crimes officials have identified. “What this technology basically gives the Baltimore Police Department the permission to do is like if a police officer followed you from sunup to sundown,” said activist Erricka Bridgeford. She and other plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. Federal Judge Richard Bennett said the planes could not collect footage until he rules on the plaintiffs’ request that he stop the program while he considers its legality. The $3.69 million trial run would involve three planes flying for at least 40 hours per week. Cameras would capture 32 square miles, about 40 percent of the city, every second.