Monte Reel of Bloomberg News reports that since January, Baltimore City police have been working with a private corporation, Persistent Surveillance Systems, to keep Baltimore communities under constant aerial surveillance. The secret surveillance program was funded through the Baltimore Community Foundation to keep the funding anonymous. Bloomberg exposed the surveillance program and the funder, a former-Enron trader John Arnold from Texas known as "the King of natural gas."
This news is disturbing on many levels. Here are some quick points as I digest this news:
1. Surveillance of city residents that is funded by private dollars and done in secret is a violation of the public trust and seems to cross a line of legality under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Following on the discovery of the use of Stingray technology by police, it makes one wonder what other programs are being used by the Baltimore police without public knowledge.
2. Militarizing the police further than they already are is a problem when we should be doing the opposite. The police need to become public servants who are accountable to the public.
3. This is a huge waste of resources - if the city did decide to fund it, it would waste dollars that should be used to solve the underlying crises of poverty and lack of education, jobs, affordable homes and access to health care that fuel violence and crime in our city. The recent DOJ report found that Baltimore City Police are already overusing resources such as the use of police helicopters to enforce nuisance laws.
4. Constant aerial surveillance fuels the 'warrior mentality' that the DOJ report also found to be a problem with police in Baltimore. Police are trained to be the opposite of what they should be: public servants.
. It has a real potential for abuse and charging innocent people with crimes because they are in an area where a crime is committed. We've already seen abuse of that in the city, especially with the case of Keith Davis, Jr.
We must totally transform the way that policing is done in Baltimore City, in Maryland and across the country. Instead of violating our constitutional rights, law enforcement and policy makers must take meaningful steps to stop criminalizing our population, to reduce wealth inequality and to guarantee that people have access to basic necessities.
This surveillance program should be immediately stopped. There should be a public debate on whether constant aerial surveillance is a tactic the communities of Baltimore want. The city should review the legality of constant aerial surveillance. And, all records of surveillance should be reviewed to see if African American and poor communities are being targeted, as the DOJ report shows that Baltimore police act in a racially discriminatory way.
Real security means that people have access to health care, housing, education and jobs with a living wage. When this is accomplished, and the police serve the public, there will be justice and there will be peace.