Phila. officials get look at city police cameras

They're considering adopting system

April 22, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore officials showed off the city's network of surveillance video cameras yesterday to officials from Philadelphia, which is considering rolling out its own system to help fight crime.

Mayor John Street and other Philadelphia officials were given a demonstration of Baltimore's system, which has 228 fixed cameras and another 83 mobile cameras, with more to come, city officials said.

Street, a Democrat, called Baltimore's system "the most creative, effective use of cameras anywhere in the country."

Philadelphia's camera proposal has drawn criticism from civil libertarians, and its police commissioner, Sylvester Johnson, has questioned whether it would be effective. The proposal will come up for a vote in a nonbinding referendum next month to gauge public opinion, but ultimately the Police Department will decide whether to deploy it. Yesterday, Johnson met with Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm to discuss the cameras.

If Philadelphia moves forward with a system, it would pay for the system much the same way as Baltimore: through a combination of federal homeland security funding, local tax dollars and seized assets from criminal enterprises.

In Baltimore, the cameras did not come up for a vote - the Police Department just began testing and rolling out the system. Police officials and Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said that residents in many neighborhoods across Baltimore want the cameras to deter crime.

"We embarked on it and pursued it very quickly," O'Malley said. "Nothing ever happens quickly enough for me."

Statistics compiled by the city state's attorney's office from mid-December to March 31 showed that of 252 cases where cameras were used to make an arrest, prosecutors declined to pursue charges in 84 cases, one case was dismissed by a judge and 41 cases resulted in guilty verdicts. Charges were dropped in another 33 cases for unspecified reasons, the figures show.

Asked about the effectiveness of the cameras in prosecution, O'Malley said the Police Department's protocol for using the cameras is evolving as officials work through technology glitches and as case law develops in the court system. He said that the dismissal rate doesn't differ greatly from cases where cameras are not involved.

Last month, Baltimore officials and two neighborhood activists praised the cameras at a hearing held by the Philadelphia City Council. Kristen Mahoney, the Police Department's chief of technical services, said the cameras were an effective tool.

In a prepared statement, Mary Harvin of the Baltimore's East Midway-Barclay Community Safety Program told a Philadelphia City Council committee: "If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

The Associated Press and the Knight Ridder News Service contributed to this article.

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