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Community members react to Baltimore City's decision to terminate surveillance plane

Posted at 5:45 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 17:45:58-05

BALTIMORE — For the first time, we're hearing from data analysts who worked inside the office reviewing data from the city's surveillance plane program.

"I viewed this program as an effective tool," said Justin Matthews.

The 26-year-old is from West Baltimore and studying cyber security. He came on board with the program along with 40 other employees when the pilot program began.

"This program allowed us to get the true story of what happened because we had that aerial perspective," said Matthews. "We saw the crime, where people went after and it was also a way to help keep police accountable."

On Wednesday, the Board of Estimates terminated the city’s contract with the company that operated the program. Justin Matthews and Carson Kelly were among a number of people laid off in the process. They were both data analysts.

"We were helping out your community, trying to make it better," said Kelly.

Kelly who is currently seeking full-time work elsewhere said he felt as though the program wasn't given a full chance.

"They didn't give us a chance to do that. They took it away," he said. The pilot project allowed surveillance planes to hover over the city and record movement on the ground.

On Wednesday, a representative with the city’s police department told board members on that its crime fighting assistance wasn’t significant enough to warrant keeping the program.

"There was no statistical difference between those instances where the plane was involved in evidentiary collection versus those instances that were not," said Eric Melancon, Chief of Staff for Commissioner Michael Harrison.

In Sandtown, community members disagree telling WMAR-2 News those who sit on the Board of Estimates are out of touch with communities on the west side.

"It's ridiculous," said Pastor Duane Simmons with Simmons Memorial Baptist Church. "It has been my experience that the program worked."

Pastor Simmons said the surveillance plane helped identify a shooter involved in an incident outside his church.

"The plane in the air had a connection with a City Watch camera and other cameras," he said. "We received a picture of the shooter in less than 25 minutes while there was 30 people outside that refused to talk."

Simmons and other supporters told WMAR 2 News the program worked it just wasn't given a real chance.

“The program has done in six months what they haven’t done in four years,” said Archie Williams.

"We cleared over 50 cases, almost a dozen homicides," said Jason Rodriguez, director of community engagement for the program. "Over 170 cases were supported. So, we still did something, we weren’t in here playing video games all day. We were in here trying to make Baltimore a better place."