Smith to propose surveillance cameras for county's criminal 'hot spots'

Christina Jedra
Contact Reportercjedra@capgaznews.com
Would you be in favor of surveillance cameras in the county?

County Councilman Pete Smith wants to install surveillance cameras to watch over criminal "hot spots" throughout the county.

The Severn Democrat plans to introduce legislation in the coming months to enable the installation of cameras in areas such as Annapolis, Brooklyn Park, Glen Burnie and Severn. Smith said he hopes the cameras would act "as a deterrent to those seeking to do crime or malicious activities."

Cameras could be set up "hopefully within the next few fiscal years, one or two years," he said. "It's not a logical issue, just the funding."

Smith said he is exploring cost options but expects about $100,000 to be spent on five to 10 cameras throughout the county in areas that generate a lot of public safety calls.

For Anne Arundel police, "the more eyes out there, the better," said spokesman Ryan Frashure.

He said images posted to social media often connect investigators with community members who recognize suspects. Since March, officers have posted 79 calls for public assistance on department accounts, and in over a dozen cases, tips led to arrests.

Baltimore County police began their camera program in March 2014, said spokeswoman Elise Armacost. Today they operate 23 "portable observation devices" that are placed during large-scale public events and in areas where crime trends have been identified, she said.

"The POBs have proven a worthwhile investment, especially as a tool to collect evidence to convict criminals," she said.

Smith said he is particularly motivated to bring cameras to Brooklyn Park, which has a higher crime rate than the rest of the county, according to police.

"They obviously buffer Baltimore City, so there's a lot of crossover there from activities that occur," he said. "If there's one city, and certainly in District 1, that I want to leave here in 2018, and can say 'I feel like I've done some justice there,' it's probably Brooklyn Park."

Brooklyn Park has been "sputtering" in recent years but with some assistance, including security cameras, the area could be revitalized, he said.

"I see no reason why it couldn't be like the Federal Hill of northern Anne Arundel County."

Smith said he consulted with Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young about costs and logistics. Baltimore City has 300 CitiWatch cameras, Baltimore police said.

Young's Deputy Chief of Staff Lester Davis said Baltimore officials rely on surveillance footage to deter crime and solve cases but that it's not a one-stop solution.

"From the president's perspective, it can be a useful tool," Davis said. "It's not a silver bullet or any kind of panacea."

David Gray, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said cameras are part of a theory of law enforcement called "broken windows policing" in which officials target minor crime to restore order in hopes of decreasing more serious crime.

"The idea was to use law enforcement officers to henpeck some of the local troublemakers so they'd move along and know they're being watched," he said.

But there are negatives to surveillance, too.

"There's a certain value in privacy in terms of personal experimentation and being willing to take risks and make mistakes," Gray said. "That goes away if you know you're being (observed). There's also something slightly creepy about being watched. The idea I was being watched constantly would be disconcerting to me."

Gray, the author of the upcoming book 'The Fourth Amendment in the Age of Surveillance', said a move toward proactive social control "takes on a momentum of its own" when society takes on the surveillance design of prisons.

"It's 10 cameras now, but crime is going to move, and you'll put in 10 more," he said. "Before you know it, we're living in surveillance state."

Smith said community members he's spoken with are supportive of the proposed cameras and that he doesn't anticipate strong opposition from legislators.

"I never assume anything with the council but I think anything that is aimed at reducing crime and other acts would be looked at positively," he said.

Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, commended Smith's proposal.

"If we spent half a million, I think that would be a good move," he said. "If we need to put more out, we should do it. (Otherwise), we're paying for it as a society."

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