Jessamy criticized over cameras

Prosecutor's questioning of evidence obtained by videos hurts police, opponent claims

Maryland Votes 2006

August 16, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Steve Fogleman, the only candidate running against Patricia C. Jessamy in the race for Baltimore state's attorney, publicly chastised his opponent yesterday for "fighting cops, not crime."

Fogleman held a news conference in front of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse to distribute an e-mail that he had obtained.

The e-mail, from Jessamy spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns to all assistant state's attorneys, requests police surveillance video camera footage -- from what are called "pole cameras" -- to help Jessamy in a news interview that day.

Jessamy "would like to show the reporter examples of any criminal cases where the pole camera footage is grainy, blurry and hard to see for court identification purposes," Burns wrote in the e-mail.

Yesterday, Burns confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail.

Fogleman said the e-mail re- enforces his belief that Jessamy "is trying to undermine crime-fighting." He said Burns' request was a "patent misuse" of prosecutors' time and was made only to "help prove Mrs. Jessamy's political points."

Burns said she was responding to a routine news media request.

"It's not a political point at all," she said. "It's just that the cameras have not yet proven to be helpful to prosecutors."

The two state's attorney's candidates, both Democrats, will square off in the Sept. 12 primary election.

For months, the camera issue has been hitting a raw nerve at the Baltimore Police Department.

Closed-circuit television cameras began going up in May 2005, and about 300 of them are spread throughout the city. Mayor Martin O'Malley allocated $3 million in this year's budget for more cameras.

Police use the cameras to gather information about drug activities and gangs. And they use them as evidence in some criminal cases.

In July, police made 271 arrests based on incidents captured by cameras. The same month, prosecutors won convictions in 34 cases and dropped 37 with camera evidence, according to state's attorney's office statistics.

Jessamy has said publicly -- and repeatedly, through her spokeswoman -- that the camera footage is of little use to prosecutors. Burns said the quality of the images is so poor that prosecutors cannot clearly identify a suspect, and therefore, they cannot present the evidence to jurors.

Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, said he finds Burns' comments "disappointing, troubling and, frankly, confusing." He said many courtroom prosecutors have told detectives that "they think the cameras are a terrific tool."

Jablow said that when Burns disparages the footage, she is jeopardizing the crime-fighting possibilities of the cameras because it signals to would-be criminals that they need not worry about the cameras.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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