City expands crime cameras into Northeast Baltimore

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake climbed into a cherry picker Wednesday morning, rising above Harford Road to install a new surveillance camera in Northeast Baltimore, one of 33 the city is adding to a network that has grown to nearly 600.

The new cameras, which have been installed along East North Avenue and will eventually spring up along Harford and Belair roads around Clifton Park, are funded by federal and local grants. Rawlings-Blake has overseen the addition of 100 cameras to the network since taking office.

The installation continues a move away from the blinking "blue light" cameras that sprang up a decade ago and became ubiquitous in some of Baltimore's most crime-ridden neighborhoods. The city has been taking those cameras out of service, officials said.

"We're trying to get cameras that are present, but not overt and not as obvious as the cameras that were initially installed," Rawlings-Blake said.

Officials held an event to install the latest camera Wednesday morning at Homestead Street and Harford Road, in a neighborhood that saw an explosion of crime around this time last year. The spike prompted police to designate the area one of its "violent crime impact zones" — neighborhoods patrolled by a special deployment of plainclothes officers.

Since then, violence in the area has dropped. Neighborhood leaders hope the cameras can help the area continue to move forward, following completion of a multimillion-dollar streetscape project for Harford Road.

"We're trying to reinvent Harford Road to try to attract businesses that reflect the essence of the community," said Mark Washington, executive director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Association. "If we're going to attract residents, part of doing that includes providing a secure environment not only for them to live but also to shop."

Daisy McLean, who helps organize the area's Citizens on Patrol walks, said of the cameras: "This is what we need."

The new cameras are on main thoroughfares, and most shootings tend to occur on the side streets that branch into areas such as the Darley Park and Four-by-Four neighborhoods. But Sheryl Goldstein, director of the mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said installation of fiber-optic cable for those cameras will help to eventually expand the system deeper into communities.

Some critics have questioned the effectiveness and cost of the cameras, but police point to a recent study by the Urban Institute of the city's downtown cameras. It found that cameras had driven down crime in most areas and gave taxpayers a return of as much as $1.50 for every dollar spent on the system.

The lead author of the study also said there was "no evidence" to suggest that crime simply moved to another area.

"I've heard controversy about the cameras, and the facts are this: They make the residents feel safer and build confidence in the city's commitment to fight crime in their neighborhoods," Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said. "As an emerging technology for law enforcement, it's a sound investment."

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