In Baltimore City, homicides, robbery, and assaults have all increased year-over year. Many will point to police to fix the problem, but a neighborhood group is turning to technology to drive down crime.
And in the City's largest police district, officers have their hands full. Homicides in the Northeastern District have doubled and violent and property crime is up 30 percent, according to online crime data posted by the Baltimore Police Department. The statistics come up a lot at neighborhood meetings.
“One of the meetings I had suggested everyone put up fake cameras and maybe that would deter a lot of the violence in the neighborhood ” said Pat Mohamad, who also goes by “Ms. Pat” and lives in the Belair-Edison neighborhood.
Neighborhood Watch Team Baltimore (NWT), a group that works with homeowners to reduce and deter crime, proposed a different idea: real cameras. Co-creators Adam Lowell and Ryan Sinnott came up with a program that would strategically position cameras on different blocks and was affordable for homeowners.
“Our goal is to do what it takes to provide protection, to let people know, let homeowners know there's something you can do to stand up and start taking your home back, your block back,” Lowell said.
Lowell and Sinnott launched the surveillance camera program a year ago and estimate they've put up around 100 cameras in that time.
“What we really like about this system, which gives people a lot of peace of mind, is not only can you see what's going on, you can also hear what's going on and you can communicate using intercom systems,” Sinnott said.
The cameras don't rely on high-speed internet, they're wireless and can run off a back-up battery if there's a power outage. They're good quality cameras that the program offers for free, but there's a catch.
The program works better if they get neighbors who already have a system in place. They then work with a camera provider who price matches a competitor's fee and provides them two complimentary outdoor video surveillance cameras with a portable DVR monitor and built-in two-way intercom system.
Lowell and Sinnott will also work with the consumer to subsidize their monthly payments by helping them get money back through things like homeowner's insurance.
“We'll take the time to sit down and see if we can get a few other bills reduced, see if we can make sure it works for them. We don't want people to have to take on anything that they can't handle, the program doesn't make sense if that's the case,” said Lowell.
Costs vary depending on how many bells and whistles you want. Lowell said they average anywhere from $40 a month to $70. Ms. Pat went for the deluxe option.
“$39 to $40 a month? It's worth it. To save somebody's life, or somebody's livelihood or your home that you've worked very, very hard to maintain, so it's no problem and plus I'm on a fixed income and it does not hurt me at all,” said Ms. Pat.
Ms. Pat uses her system so much that her neighbors have even given her a nickname.
“They call me the nosy neighbor because I want to make sure that everybody is okay, not just my home but everybody's home in my surroundings,” Ms. Pat said.
The group’s goal is to get three or four cameras per block so there are no blind spots.
Program applicants must be homeowners, 18 years or older, and live in a single family home or townhouse that is less than 3,000 square feet. The program is also open to people who don’t already have a surveillance system.
“When we position these cameras, we position them so not only are they catching your portion of your front yard, your portion of your backyard but they're also catching your portion of the street and the alleyway,” Lowell said.
The group's slogan is more cameras equal less crime.
“Instead of relying on the police, instead of relying on other people, it's about you, yourself doing what you can to get things done,” said Lowell.
“In order to make things work, we have to work together and you do it one street at a time, one neighborhood at a time and the cameras have really, really helped,” said Ms. Pat.
NWT is looking to expand the program into other neighborhoods.
They also encourage homeowners with cameras to register them with Baltimore Police so in the event of a crime they can better search for video evidence.
And anyone in the program can also report any activity to police anonymously or through Lowell or Sinnott who will pick up the video from program participants and deliver it to detectives.
For more information on the program, click here.