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'That’s an extra eye': CitiWatch camera improvements crucial to curbing crime

Posted at 6:50 PM, May 20, 2022

BALTIMORE — Police alone can’t solve Baltimore’s unrelenting crime issue which is why technology like CitiWatch cameras were bought and paid for to help.

But Baltimore City Council members argue with nearly 130 city-operated cameras down at any time, they’re not helping enough.

Though his own lenses, Stephon Hanley has seen quite a bit on his block.

“I’ve caught some violent incidents. I’ve caught anywhere from shooters, victims to assumed, thefts, people going into cars,” Hanley shared.

Still, a significant amount of crime in his area has managed to remain out of sight, like a shooting just north of where he lives.

“I think they found over 40 shell casings and it was in an area where there was supposed to be a public camera there, a city watch camera and it wasn’t functional,” Hanley recalled.

It’s been a serious concern for Hanley who advocates for safety for several of his more vulnerable neighbors.

“That could’ve been crucial information to finding out people who are involved because there were shootings that were subsequent of that,” Hanley said.

He’s gone as far as securing grants on his own to get his neighbors access to their own private cameras.

In regard to CitiWatch cameras where police can monitor activity in real time, that access is lacking according to city leaders.

“So we have a little over 800 cameras in the city watch portfolio. My understanding is that about 755 of those are managed by the Mayors office of neighborhood safety and engagement and approximately between 17 and 18 percent of those cameras are out at any given time,” said Councilman Eric Castello.

He called the approximate 130 cameras out of commission ‘unacceptable’ (demanding a summer crime) plan from the city’s leaders by June 3.

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Hanley said those cameras out of commission are essential to sending the right message to those committing and often repeating the same crimes.

“Knowing that there are working cameras on the block is going to deter crime because unless you’re silly, you’re not going to…some people will but anybody who’s smart is not going to do something in front of a camera, witnesses,” Hanley said.

When they aren’t working, it could hinder the tough prosecution it takes to hold offenders accountable.

“That’s evidence. That’s an extra eye. That’s an objective. That’s something you can show and people can testify with that information so it’s a costly resource not to have them,” Henley said.

Mayor Brandon Scott’s office issued a statement:

"While CitiWatch did experience expected issues with camera uptime (sub 90% availability) during a recent transition to a new vendor and a new video management system the camera availability has consistently been at 92% for several weeks now. Given the technology and the total number of cameras that are within the system, it is the goal to be between 90-95% at all times.

There are a total of 763 CitiWatch managed cameras that can be down for a variety of reasons at any time - pole, wireless (tree and hardware issues), electric, fiber and camera hardware. All off line cameras vary in length of time and the responsible parties. The City’s maintenance vendor BCIT, BPD, BGE, BCRP Forestry, etc. – communicate regularly and more often than not daily to escalate and prioritize repairs as needed.

MONSE does not and has never provided oversight to the Citiwatch camera system, despite the placement in the budget. As such, MONSE's Fiscal Year '23 budget does not include Citiwatch, which will be moved to BCIT's FY '23 budget.”