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Baltimore's Board Of Estimates Ends Agreement With Company Running Aerial Surveillance Program

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The Baltimore City Board of Estimates on Wednesday unanimously approved ending the city's agreement with the company undertaking the controversial aerial surveillance program.

Officials said despite the program's aim to reduce crime, there's no proof it was effective in doing so. An independent study showed the program did help solve an extra 11 serious crimes, but the report could not draw a conclusion on its effectiveness.

"You know, there's a lot of reasons for that, but overall, given that preliminary analysis, it further led to us the decision to separate," Baltimore Police Department Chief of Staff Eric Melancon said.

A more thorough report is due out next spring.

In April 2020, the city approved a contract with Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems for the Aerial Investigation Research pilot program. The program ended October 31, the city's police department said, but not before the ACLU of Maryland took it to court, arguing aerial surveillance violated residents' First and Fourth Amendment rights.

"It is the technological equivalent of having a police officer follow you every time you walk out the door of your house," the ACLU of Maryland's senior staff attorney, said in September.


Out-of-state philanthropists covered the costs of the program.

An agenda for Wednesday's meeting said the police department "has no plan to renew or extend the program for the foreseeable future."

In a statement, Councilman Mark Conway, who chairs the public safety and government operations committee, praised the decision to end the program.

"If we want to bring down violence in Baltimore, we need proven public safety strategies that respect residents' constitutional rights while engaging communities holistically," he said. "The surveillance plane did not strike that balance. Under my chairmanship, the Public Safety Committee will explore public safety solutions that do, and I look forward to continuing to work with the mayor, police department, and stakeholders in and outside of city government."

Mayor Brandon Scott, one of the program's critics, said the city should pursue strategies that work instead of "gimmicks."

"Cities around the country have reduced violent crime by implementing a group violence reduction strategy, focusing in on repeat violent offenders, and building and investing in neighborhoods and people, not just relying on some plane," he said.

Police officials said most of the data the private company involved in the program collected will be destroyed, but around 15% will be saved to help with future prosecutions.

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