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Baltimore is exploring whether to use spy planes to help curb crime.
Baltimore is exploring whether to use spy planes to help curb crime. (USAF / Baltimore Sun)

The Sun’s recent editorial regarding the surveillance plane, was very troubling. Labeling “city and state leaders — in political, non-profit and business circles” as “irresponsible and irrational” will certainly not solve any crimes or help reduce violence in the city (”Aerial surveillance is not the answer to Baltimore’s crime problem,” Oct. 14).

Why won’t the persistent surveillance plane just go away? In spite of The Sun’s insinuation that some large fraction of 72% of Baltimoreans, including more than a few subscribers like myself, are hopelessly naive — there may be some “there, there.”

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Technology does not solve crimes, at least not yet. People solve crimes. People use tools — and we have some real evidence that our tools help — but it is still the people that get the job done. People are not born with some innate ability to use every tool, or every new tool. They require training. And just as people require training, organizations and communities need to develop and adapt process and procedure to reap the benefits as new tools and practitioners come on line.

Ross McNutt, president of Persistent Surveillance Systems answers questions at a press conference in 2016 on the Baltimore Police Department's use of private funding to work with his company to provide aerial surveillance of Baltimore for months in secret.
Ross McNutt, president of Persistent Surveillance Systems answers questions at a press conference in 2016 on the Baltimore Police Department's use of private funding to work with his company to provide aerial surveillance of Baltimore for months in secret. (Jerry Jackson, Baltimore Sun)

There are plenty of city and privately-owned cameras all over the city, and The Sun reports regularly that these video cameras help solve crimes. Before street cameras existed, some crimes were simply unsolvable — particularly in a city with serious witness intimidation problems. People did not apply these cameras and other technologies to crime fighting overnight. Prosecutions failed in some cases, and the technology and practices were adapted to make the whole process work, from answering a police call to convicting a perpetrator.

As much as The Sun seems determined to discard this opportunity to explore applying the unique aspects of this technology, it is impossible to replace actual experience and information with conjecture from either side of the argument. The Sun presses the provider for proof, and the provider scrapes together what they can to illustrate the potential, but this is a fool’s errand for everyone involved. There can’t be definitive proof of how effective the technology is at the job unless there are trained people and mature processes that can be sampled for repeatable results to be judged.

Many of us understand that Baltimore faces a complex violent crime problem and don’t believe there is a magic bullet. We believe that our police force is the sum total of the people, processes, training, leadership and tools that comprise it. The persistent surveillance plane offers a unique capability to stitch-together a persistent low resolution view of the city, with our existing cameras and communications technology and to gain a unique advantage over bad actors in our city. It is a completely new type of tool that requires new practices that cannot be put in place overnight.

Perhaps, we should consider bringing the tool here, maturing it, setting some goals and judging the results with actual information. This process will take at least two years, with some of the cost offset by the supplier.

The Sun does not have the background or experience required to judge what a large number of Baltimoreans see as an important step to regaining control of our city as useless. Deeming the rest of us as “irresponsible and irrational” is, well...

Greg Boss, Locust Point

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