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Police Install Surveillance Cameras in Baltimore


March 1996

The City of Baltimore has approved $58,000 to install 16 police video cameras in areas with high crime and drug activity (Timothy Egan, "Police Surveillance of Streets Turns to Video Cameras and Listening Devices," New York Times, February 7, 1996, p. A12; "Police Turning to Cameras to Deter Drug Activity," Drug Enforcement Report, February 8, 1996, p. 3).

An officer at a nearby substation can control the movement of the cameras and can alert patrol cars to any suspicious activity. If the test is successful, the program will be expanded to 11 other neighborhoods. Use of police-monitored video cameras is prevalent in England, where 300 towns now use or plan to use the systems. A handful of U.S. communities are now using video or audio surveillance.

The cameras are mounted on street signs are reinforced by metal to withstand vandalism. The Tacoma, Washington police department had to replace their cameras after gangs shot at and damaged them.

Police say the cameras keep areas safe and save money. A program in Virginia Beach, Virginia allows one officer to view a 27-block area. As many as 25 officers would be required to patrol the same area.

Cincinnati, Ohio and Memphis, Tennessee are also considering launching a video camera project. Redwood City, California has had audio surveillance in effect since December. The system can detect gunfire and send a message to a central facility about the location of the sound. Although most of the residents in surveillance areas are in favor of the program, a few worry that the audio recorders can be diverted to eavesdrop on conversations within their homes.