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Residents want a surveillance plane

Baltimore police investigate the shooting of a police officer on Summerfield Ave in Northeast Baltimore. Some residents believe a surveillance plane could help the police solve crimes like this.
Baltimore police investigate the shooting of a police officer on Summerfield Ave in Northeast Baltimore. Some residents believe a surveillance plane could help the police solve crimes like this. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

On one hand, we have gun rights advocates who, when challenged about things like background checks and assault weapons, ultimately tell us that the U.S. Constitution guarantees them the ability to be armed so they can overthrow the government. Really?

Most people walk out the door every day giving their consent to personalized, individual location surveillance, in the form of the cellphone in their pocket. Many of those same people, when challenged, have difficulty offering specific arguments against persistent surveillance technology often falling back on the slippery slope argument (“Baltimore police commissioner says he hasn’t ruled out using surveillance plane in the future to fight crime,” Aug. 20). Others note that the technology was used by the military. The internet was developed by the military, so we should shut that down?

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And now, The Sun is fascinated by a group of neighbors using their Ring doorbells to protect themselves from both violence and retribution (“Virtual neighborhood watch’: Baltimore faith group building surveillance network with help from Amazon Ring,” Aug. 20).

How about considering a more reasoned approach regarding the surveillance plane? We have a crime problem that exploits the weaknesses of an understaffed police force attempting to transition to a more rational enforcement policy. Why not at least try introducing technology that could give our officers better coordination in responding, or stronger coordination of video surveillance cameras when investigating crimes where perpetrators count on our weaknesses to avoid consequences? I was at City Council President Brandon Scott’s hearing about the plane last winter. The Sun was apparently at a different meeting since, failing to note that by my count there was modest majority support for the system. The Sun reported a slam-dunk against it.

Many speaking in favor were minorities, and I myself was approached on the way into the meeting by a young African American man pleading with me to speak in favor of the system. This meeting was misrepresented. With such a serious crime problem, let’s try developing practices and procedures around a technology that can give our police better information when responding to a problem. This type of system provides a way to track perpetrators immediately after an incident. That’s important for an understaffed force facing impunity. This sort of system can also help organize responses in real time, making fewer resources more effective.

Of course, this sort of thing is very complicated to master. It is the people who make these processes work. The technology is just a hammer. The people are the carpenters. That’s why we need to consider enabling the program for two years so there is enough time to actually adapt practices to it and evaluate the results. I understand there are unknowns about a new capability. There are also very serious threats to our community. If we are afraid of abuse, sunset the relationship and force it to be revisited. During the trial period, make it clear that the city or state own the imagery and place strict limits on retention unless an image is required for prosecution. But do something.

Baltimore needs to use the tools available to us. People are dying.

Greg Boss, Locust Point

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