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Baltimore Police say they have no plans to use surveillance plane

Posted at 6:09 PM, Aug 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 06:53:46-04

BALTIMORE — You would have to know it was Pennsylvania and North Avenue before looking at the image from high above.

The freeze frame of video is just an example of the imagery Persistent Surveillance Solutions says could help reduce murders and shootings in Baltimore by 30 percent; employing a Cessna plane with an eye in the sky -- that never blinks.

"The biggest factor in deterring people from committing crime is the likelihood of getting caught and right now we have about a 22 percent conviction rate for murders. Every kid out there thinks they are better than average, so a 22 percent conviction rate doesn’t deter them," said president of the surveillance company Ross McNutt.

The concept is simple -- the theory more complex.

McNutt says his equipment would record 90 percent of the city during daylight hours…the resolution limited to just shapes and cars allowing analysts to see when a car flees a shooting or homicide and then see which CCTV cameras that car passes.

It could be a literal road map from a shooting or homicide that furnishes detectives invaluable information.

A test run in 2016 was ill-fated though, mostly because the Baltimore Police Department never told the public of the surveillance, but McNutt says that same public is now clamoring for the program again.

He cites more than 60 meetings with Baltimore City community groups and a ground swell of support through two years that has him back and forth to Baltimore nearly twice a month.

"Our objective is to get the work out because when people understand what we do, the privacy protections we have in place, the oversight that is involved in the program...they understand it and their biggest question is why aren’t we already doing this?"

McNutt hopes that is the same reaction he will get from Commissioner Michael Harrison Monday.

He landed an hour and half long meeting with the city's top cop to explain this program and how he thinks it can help.

It will cost the city nothing.

The Arnold Foundation pledges all the funds for three years just to see if this technology can make a difference in a large city and whether it can be useful in other areas.

A nice gift, but some city leaders believe that money could be better spent.

"People who want to donate money to the city…give that kind of stuff to the commissioner who talks ad nauseam about the technology and improvements he needs to make in order to improve the crime fight," said City Council President Brandon Scott.

Still, it is the mayor or the commissioner who can make this decision.

McNutt -- all too aware of what happened in 2016 -- thinks he can convince city government to try it again.

"To be honest with you, a lot of people say why are you still bothering?" McNutt said. "Baltimore is not in a position to be able to say yes but I have a feeling and a belief that political leadership can make these sorts of decisions."

It is a decision once again, back in front of city hall and police headquarters.

As of late Monday, Baltimore Police have said they have no plans to use the surveillance plane.