Davis, Cum­mings dis­cuss aerial video

Com­mis­sioner ‘apol­o­gized pro­fusely’ for not dis­clos­ing se­cret sur­veil­lance pro­gram

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Kevin Rec­tor krec­tor@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/rec­tor­sun

Bal­ti­more Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis “apol­o­gized pro­fusely” at a meet­ing with Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings for fail­ing to dis­close an aerial sur­veil­lance pro­gram that has been op­er­at­ing for months above Bal­ti­more, Cum­mings said Fri­day.

“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.

Davis has said lit­tle about the pro­gram in pub­lic. Af­ter the sur­veil­lance was first dis­closed last week in me­dia re­ports, po­lice spokesman T.J. Smith dis­missed claims that the pro­gram was se­cret, in­stead sug­gest­ing it was a sim­ple ex­pan­sion of the city’s street-level Ci­tiWatch cam­era sys­tem.

A pri­vate com­pany, Per­sis­tent Surveil- lance Sys­tems, has con­ducted about 300 hours of aerial sur­veil­lance cover­ing about 32 square miles of the city at a time from a Cessna air­plane thou­sands of feet in the air. The trial pro­gram, which be­gan in Jan­uary and has con­ducted flights in­ter­mit­tently since then, was pri­vately funded and never pre­sented to the city’s Board of Es­ti­mates for ap­proval.

The footage col­lected un­der the pro­gram does not al­low for the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of in­di­vid­u­als be­cause its im­ages are lowres­o­lu­tion, ac­cord­ing to po­lice and Per­sis­tent Sur­veil­lance.

But the com­pany’s an­a­lysts, and thus po­lice, can track in­di­vid­u­als and ve­hi­cles to see where po­ten­tial sus­pects came from and go in the pe­riod be­fore and af­ter a crime, po­lice said.

The pro­gram was not dis­closed to the pub­lic, and key city and state of­fi­cials also were kept in the dark. Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake, Gov. Larry Ho­gan, Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby, Mary­land Pub­lic De­fender Paul DeWolfe, then-City So­lic­i­tor Ge­orge Nil­son, state law­mak­ers and many other top-level of­fi­cials in city gov­ern­ment were not told about the pro­gram un­til months af­ter it be­gan, of­fi­cials said.

Cum­mings re­quested the meet­ing with Davis, which oc­curred Thurs­day evening and lasted about an hour and a half, af­ter learn­ing of the sur­veil­lance pro­gram through lo­cal news re­ports, he said.

Cum­mings said he told Davis that the se­crecy around the pro­gram “goes against the very thing that we would have ex­pected” from the depart­ment fol­low­ing the re­cent U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice re­port that found po­lice trans­parency was se­verely lack­ing in the city.

“I also told him that I don’t think that the Po­lice Depart­ment, par­tic­u­larly in light of the DOJ re­port, should take a po­si­tion of ‘ My way or the high­way,’ ” Cum­mings said.

He said he told Davis that it was im­por­tant that “he have buy-in from the le­gal com­mu­nity, the civil rights com­mu­nity and the re­li­gious com­mu­nity and the gen­eral pub­lic” if he in­tends to move for­ward with the pro­gram.

“I told him all of that is very, very im­por­tant — that they open it up as wide as they can so the pub­lic can see how it works.”

Smith said the meet­ing be­tween Cum- mings and Davis was “very pro­duc­tive.”

“We dis­cussed the tech­nol­ogy, its ben­e­fit to the crime fight and ways to bet­ter in­volve the com­mu­nity,” Smith said. “The po­lice com­mis­sioner looks for­ward to show­ing and dis­cussing the tech­nol­ogy more in the com­ing days.”

Davis has de­clined re­quests from The Sun for com­ment on the pro­gram or the rea­son for not dis­clos­ing it pub­licly.

Cum­mings said he came away from his meet­ing with Davis more in­formed about the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of the pro­gram in a city suf­fer­ing from a del­uge of day­time shoot­ings.

“I could see the value of the pro­gram, and I say that be­cause when you have sit­u­a­tions where a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of your most vi­o­lent crimes are tak­ing place out­doors, and in many in­stances in broad day­light, it is good to be able to fig­ure out where the al­leged as­sailant came from and where they went to af­ter com­mit­ting an of­fense,” Cum­mings said.

But, he added, “all kinds of ques­tions need to be asked and an­swered,” in­clud­ing how res­i­dents’ civil rights can be pro­tected.

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