Baltimore has been divided for years by the Police Department’s desire to record residents from surveillance planes, an effort to reduce crime in a city where the murder rate remains stubbornly high.
On Thursday, a judge temporarily blocked the planes from flying reconnaissance missions after a community think tank and two Baltimore residents challenged the surveillance program, which was approved last week.
The lawsuit argues that the planes, which were about to begin a six-month trial run, would violate the residents’ constitutional rights to not be searched without cause and to freely associate with others.
Baltimore police officials have stressed that the surveillance footage would be used only after a serious crime has been reported — not to track vehicles or people during a police chase — and that the results of the trial run would be reviewed rigorously.
The mayor supports the program, and one poll showed broad support among residents. But others remain skeptical of the eyes-in-the-sky approach, worrying it will infringe on their rights and be used more broadly than in the narrow set of crimes officials have identified.
Richard D. Bennett, a federal judge in Maryland, said in his order that the planes could not collect any footage until he had ruled on the plaintiffs’ request that he stop the program while he considers its legality. Michael Harrison, the police commissioner, has emphasized that the program is a trial and that he would support its continuation only if it successfully reduces crime.
source: New York Times