Some want reactivated crime-surveillance plane in Baltimore
Feb. 24, 2018
BALTIMORE (AP) — A group is trying to get a surveillance plane that collected video as it flew over Baltimore in 2016 flying again.
Community organizer Archie Williams is serving as local frontman for the Ohio-based operator Persistent Surveillance Systems in a campaign to get the plane back in the air.
In their pitches to officials, Williams and company founder Ross McNutt have dubbed the operation the "Community Support Program," The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday .
In 2016, Persistent Surveillance Systems flew the plane for the police department for hundreds of hours, the newspaper reported. However, the operation was not disclosed to the public or, initially, elected officials, including the mayor at the time.
The program was grounded after a public outcry, and police said at the time that if they were to try to resurrect it, they would make the process public.
In an effort to persuade current Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, Williams, McNutt and retired nurse Joyous Jones are visiting several places including community associations and churches to build support for what they say is a much-needed crime-fighting tool in one of the United States' most violent cities.
The city registered more than 300 homicides in each of the past three years. Meanwhile, the police department is reeling from federal convictions of eight members of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
"It's a deterrent against crime. It's a deterrent against police misconduct as well," Williams said of the surveillance plane. "You have grown men talking about, 'I was afraid of the Gun Trace Task Force.' They were out here traumatizing the community. Why not have the cameras turned around on them?"
The team launched its marketing effort six months ago after Pugh told them she would consider green-lighting the program if they could demonstrate it has community support. Pugh didn't ask for funding for the surveillance plane in her first budget as mayor, but she allowed the company to make a pitch.
David Rocah, a senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, harshly criticized the surveillance plane.
"This is one of the most stunningly cynical and revolting attempts to profit off misery that I have ever heard of in my entire life," Rocah said. "How would they feel if every time they walked out of their house, there was a police officer following them everywhere they went? This permanent eye in the sky is doing exactly that."
Acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa is to be briefed on the program in the coming weeks, police spokesman TJ Smith said.
"We have talked about the benefits of the program and we will continue to consider the possibility of having this tool available in our toolbox," Smith said.