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Commissioner Davis avoids answering questions on secret surveillance program

Commissioner won't say why surveillance program in Baltimore was never disclosed

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis declined on Tuesday to say why he never disclosed an aerial surveillance program used by his department to capture hundreds of hours of footage of wide swaths of the city in recent months.

Davis said the "purpose of the press conference" where he was asked was to talk about an arrest in a homicide case, and that the department has said before that it is preparing to discuss the surveillance program at a later date.

Between January and this month, a private company conducted about 300 hours of surveillance on behalf of the police department from a small Cessna airplane flying thousands of feet above the city. The company, which was privately funded, used a bank of cameras capable of filming more than 32 square miles of the city at a time.

The public was unaware of the program, as were city leaders including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and other elected officials.

Police have said the program was just a trial and little more than an expansion of the city's street-level CCTV camera program. Civil liberties advocates said it went well beyond a CCTV expansion and raised serious legal questions, and the Office of the Public Defender called for the program to be immediately suspended.

Police said last week that the program is not currently operating, but could again during large events in the city in mid-October.

Last week, Rep. Elijah Cummings said he met with Davis to discuss the program, and that Davis "apologized profusely" for not disclosing it prior to its being revealed in media reports.

"I do believe that he was sincere, and he realized that he created a significant hurdle with regards to the acceptance of the public of this program because of that lack of transparency," Cummings said in briefing The Baltimore Sun on the conversation he had with Davis.

Asked about that apology and whether he intended to apologize to Baltimore residents as well, Davis said he was "not going to characterize Congressman Cummings' characterization" of their meeting.

"I've already said it was healthy, it was productive. I have great admiration for Congressman Cummings and it was a good meeting. It was a great meeting," Davis said.

Davis said all of his attention was focused on the spike in shootings over the weekend.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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