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Renewed push for surveillance plane in Baltimore

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Posted at 10:14 PM, Aug 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-19 06:18:12-04

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — An "Eye in the Sky" could be coming to Baltimore. The surveillance plane's creator is trying to bring it back to Baltimore and Sunday at a public meeting, Ross McNutt went over in depth about how the surveillance would work. It would orbit over a third of Baltimore, covering from Johns Hopkins in the east to Edmondson Village in the west and be activated in a certain area where a violent crime is reported. Analysts can then track suspects and see their moments before and after a shooting to help Baltimore police catch them.

"I think I can save 100 people a year from being murdered. I will do anything I can to be able to do that because to be honest with you, it's the right thing to do," said McNutt.

The plane caused controversy in 2016 when the Baltimore City Police Department put it in the air without public knowledge but supporters of bringing back the program say it could help by catching repeat offenders and deterring crime.

"We believe that if they feel they are going to get caught they may think twice, but at a 22 percent conviction rate for murders, which includes the easy ones, or a 5 percent conviction rate or less for shootings, there's no deterrence in the city of Baltimore," said McNutt.

"He's trying to deter crime before it happens, and I think that's what we need; to let these young people know, 'Hey you're going to get caught'," said Susan Simon, who lives in Baltimore.

"I think it can help. It's just one component though. My concern are the deeper issues of the people and if we allow people to tell us what their issues are, I think we can get to it. We can get to the solutions," said Jeanette Snowden, who lives in Baltimore.

McNutt, who is the president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, said a private donor has already committed to funding the program in Baltimore for 3 years, plus paying for any police overtime needed for it and an external committee to provide oversight.

"We have built the tools that allow them to see every place our analysts have looked, when they looked there, what investigation they were working on. They can see every track we’ve ever made that you can’t make unless it’s association with one of those investigations and they provide that oversight to ensure we’re doing only what we said we’re going to do," said McNutt.

He also said the system would only be used in areas where a crime has been reported and it cannot zoom in with enough detail to identify people so he doesn't foresee any privacy concerns.

"The only place we look is where someone has reported a crime occurring or some other event that triggers us to look at it," said McNutt. "The citizens are protected. We are only allowed to look at crimes that we're allowed to look at, so the murders, the shootings and any other crimes Baltimore City leadership and the community agree to."

The next step he said is convincing city officials to let him help. Monday, he'll have a private meeting with city leaders and show his presentation to police commissioner Michael Harrison for the first time though he has presented to previous mayors and commissioners before.