Mayor reacts to aerial surveillance program

Posted at 6:20 PM, Aug 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 06:21:42-04

On the first day of school in Baltimore City, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake answered questions about her knowledge  of the aerial surveillance program that's been recording video since January.

She said she learned about the camera equipped Cessna “shortly before the press event of last week,” but could not remember if it was within this month.

"I do know my expectation for the police department is to work every single day in August, July, June, May and every month," the mayor said. "Every day that we can to look for ways to make our city safer and that is what the police department did."

Still, Rawlings-Blake said she addressed the commissioner's lack of disclosure with her office but ultimately feels he erred on the side of making Baltimore safer.

"We work very hard every single day to make sure that we are in constant communication about things that are vitally important," she said. "Sometimes things fall through the cracks. I don't fault him for that, we will work to get better, but what I do know is that we are proud that every single day he works to put more technology on the street to make Baltimore safer."

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In a letter to the commissioner, Rawlings-Blake requested the following:

(1) a comprehensive list of the exact dates, time periods and coverage area in which this surveillance was employed, regardless of whether the use of same resulted in an arrest; (2) a list of all active criminal cases in which aerial surveillance was employed; and (3) that all aerial surveillance images and records for active cases be preserved until further notice.

For his part, Commissioner Kevin Davis says he wasn't taking advantage of any secrecy, instead he was taking advantage of technology paid for without taxpayer money.

Last week, in his first interview on the subject, Davis told ABC2 the video taken from a Cessna 8,000 feet up provides an upper level road map for detectives so that they are working with more than a who-dun-it.

RELATED: Police commissioner speaks out about controversial surveillance program

While not tone-deaf to the criticism of not disclosing this program earlier, he said he had the best intentions for Baltimore.

"We intended all along to have this conversation with the community, but we wanted to get further along in our development, further along in our research before we can stand up here with a straight face and say hey Baltimore, this is the next best thing on top of CCTV," Davis said defending the experimental program. "We wanted to be at a point where when we said that, we meant it and we can only mean it if we know it works."

While this program has been successful in solving at least one murder and a few nonfatal shootings, the department hasn’t decided if it will push for the technology on a permanent basis.

Still, the nondisclosure of the aerial surveillance program continues to draw loud criticism.

The ACLU is calling for an immediate stop to the manned flights and local lawmakers want to make sure this technology is not violating any citizen’s rights.

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