Video surveillance of the city streets and sidewalks just became a little more thorough. At Saint Nicholas Church yesterday afternoon, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier announced that video cameras had been installed in yet another business district, this time in the Eastern Avenue corridor through Greektown.
Perched high above the streets, each state-of-the-art camera can monitor activities in any direction for about two blocks. Their high-resolution lenses can zoom onto a person close enough to make a positive identification or capture the license plate number of a speeding car. From the control room in the Southeast Police Headquarters, a Greektown Citizens On Patrol (COP) volunteer monitors street activity on an overhead television via a joystick control and a number pad that toggles the view between cameras.
Ellen Johns of the Greektown Development Corporation cited safety concerns as a reason for installing the video surveillance system. “Neighborhoods have been challenged, and ours is no different,” she said.
The system has actually been in use for about a month, according to COP member Kathleen Lovejoy, who dubbed the system “Greektown silent movies.”
The system came into being through a partnership among COP, Johns Hopkins Bayview Research Campus, the Department of Public Works, and the police. A driving force for the implementation was Colonel John Gavrilis, a native of the area.
While this particular surveillance system is confined to Greektown, Southeastern District Commanding Officer George L. Klein said the police “want to extend it as far as we can.” Depending on funding, the police intend on expanding the surveillance across the city, to the Johns Hopkins main campus.
Thisis the third of such systems to be put in place. In 1996, 16 cameras were installed in the Howard Street Corridor in West Baltimore by the Downtown Partnership. Another 16 were installed downtown on Charles Street this January. This system is manned by a public safety guide employed by Downtown Partnership, who reviews the film footage. Richard Cross of Downtown Partnership said that crime in the surveillance area had dropped 44% in 1998. Commissioner Frazier said that in 1997, its first full year in operation, crime had dropped by 33%.
Butting against the downtown system is yet another in the Charles North community. Run by a consortium similar to Greektown’s, this system’s HQ is a police koban or kiosk near Penn Station with a bank of monitors churning out live video feed twenty hours a day from cameras lining Charles Street up to North Avenue.
This system is financed and run by the police forces of Amtrak, the Maryland Transportation Authority, and Central District, along with the University of Baltimore, Midtown Benefits District, and Aegon Insurance Company.
Charles Smith, the director of operations for the Midtown Benefits District, and a resident of the area, pointed out that the crime rate had dropped substantially since the surveillance system was installed. He estimated that automobile break-ins had dropped from eleven a day to one.
Colonel Gavrilis, Cross, and Smith all stress that the systems are primarily a deterrent to crime. In each area where there is video surveillance, a copious number of signs advertising that fact is apparent.
The longest-standing surveillance system, run by the Downtown Partnership, has not resulted in a single criminal prosecution.
The use of video surveillance in public places is growing in this country. In Europe, the technology was embraced a decade ago. Such systems are significantly less expensive than police foot patrols.