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Baltimore County Council approves private security camera registry aimed at giving police more crime footage

The Baltimore County Council on Monday night unanimously voted for a bipartisan bill to help police more quickly track down possible video evidence of crimes.

The county would create a voluntary private security camera registry for property owners who have devices pointed toward a public right-of-way, according to the proposal. The program would map where cameras are located to help detectives identify possible security footage in areas where crimes occurred. The council adopted an amendment to encourage property owners to register all cameras, regardless of whether they face public space.

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All that residents would need to do to participate in the program is submit their contact information, the council said.

The proposal was sponsored by the entire council, but members praised Woodstock Democrat Julian Jones Jr., who led the bill.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat, commended Jones after the bill passed for the time he spent working with County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.'s administration to finalize the bill. Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, echoed the praise.

“Any way we can help our law enforcement and stop criminals for committing crimes we are a better county for doing so,” Bevins said.

Under the proposal, the county would waive alarm permitting fees for new alarm system installations — which start as low as $34 for homes and $113 for commercial buildings — that include private security or surveillance cameras if the owner signs up for the registry. The county would also waive fees for any updates to current alarm systems that include those cameras.

Program participants would receive one waiver for a “false alarm” call each year, which can cost residents $500. Registration would expire after two years, but residents would be allowed to renew their participation. The council previously proposed two waivers but that was amended Monday to one.

Documents show that the County Office of Budget and Finance estimates that the program will cost the county $400,000, including $65,000 in ongoing personnel costs, $235,000 in forgone revenues primarily due to reduced false alarm fees, and $100,000 in one-time technology start-up costs. The office’s estimate assumes revenue from third and successive false alarms last year would no longer be collectible due to the legislation. It assumes revenue collected for the third and fourth false alarms would reduce the forgone revenue estimate by $56,000.

However, the finance office stated that reducing the number of false alarm waivers from two to one would reduce the county’s overall fiscal impact estimate to $285,000. Cost savings from the Police Department’s reduced need to seek out video footage from private cameras “could potentially more than offset” the estimated ongoing costs of the program, but county documents show the administration didn’t provide an estimate from police.

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Olszewski, a Democrat, suggested an amendment to allow the finance office and Baltimore County Chief of Police to adopt regulations up to six months after the program begins. The amendment was passed by the council unanimously.

Fifty homicides were reported in the county last year, surpassing the previous high of 43 set in 1992, according to FBI data tracking violent crime since 1985. Eastern Baltimore County’s Dundalk and Essex precincts and the Wilkins and Woodlawn precincts on the county’s west side reported the most gun violence last year.

Jones said this bill will not only help drive down crime, but also could help with missing children and kidnapping.

“When every minute counts and every second counts it will be very beneficial to a police officer pulling up to automatically know what camera is down the street,” Jones said. “This bill could certainly save a life someday.”

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