I was very surprised this week to learn about the “Community Support Program” (air surveillance program currently being piloted by BPD), reading about it on Bloomberg as virtually everyone else did. While the use of new technologies is essential in aiding BPD in the crime fight, seeking public input and protecting our privacy is of great concern to me.
BPD uses several technologies for surveillance such as FoxTrot helicopters, CitiWatch cameras, and body worn cameras (BWC). I support the use of these tools when used in accordance with law. We have policies and procedures in place which guide their use as well as the retention and privacy of data collected — these take strong public input and time to develop. They are critical to ensuring these tools are used effectively while protecting personal privacy.
The recent and ongoing pilot of the Community Support Program was funded through the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF), by a private donor. The BCF builds civic endowment and charitable support by helping donors plan and carry out their charitable giving by working in partnership with others across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. It is not uncommon in Baltimore City for BCF to fund various programs and services across various sectors. It is important to note that no taxpayer dollars were used to operate the pilot, therefore the City Council has no direct authority to approve or not approve these expenditures.
At the heart of this issue is the balance between public input, the tool’s effectiveness to help solve crime, and privacy. No public input was taken into consideration before the pilot began and it is unclear why. The Mayor stated that it directly aided in the apprehension of an individual responsible for murdering two senior citizens in February. While I am not familiar with the specifics of the case, this certainly warrants serious consideration for future use of the program. However, as alluded to above, without adequate policies and procedures to guide usage as well as retention and privacy of data collected, I maintain concerns over the effectiveness of the program and protection of personal privacy.
It is disappointing that public input wasn’t sought and that the City Council wasn’t briefed in advance, as many of my colleagues have stated publicly. I have requested a briefing to learn more and plan to attend a future City Council hearing on the issue. Until learning more, I do not have a position on this issue. My commitment to learn more and carefully pay attention to its ongoing use goes without question.