- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

BALTIMORE — Allison Davis, who lives in the suburbs and works downtown, was strolling past Lexington Market on her lunch break yesterday when she first noticed the small glass orb mounted on the side of a building.

“I don’t think it is such a bad thing in this area,” Mrs. Davis, 27, said of the police surveillance camera, one of 43 that Baltimore police turned on yesterday to watch and digitally record, around the clock, everything that happens on the block.

Residents in neighborhoods struggling with street-crime problems likely will welcome the cameras, Mrs. Davis said. But if the system expands to “places without a lot of crime,” she said, “it would freak me out.”

The new cameras, which are monitored at the City Watch Center, cover a 40-square-block area on the city’s West Side, home to light-rail and Amtrak lines, government buildings and cultural attractions, such as the recently refurbished Hippodrome Theater.

In the United States, only Chicago, with more than 1,000 cameras, has a larger police-camera network.

Baltimore’s West Side cameras are part of a comprehensive homeland-security plan paid for with $2.75 million of federal urban area security grants. The surveillance network is designed to thwart terrorists and coordinate emergency response to terrorist strikes, but Baltimore officials say the cameras also will deter crime in an often dangerous part of town now on the cusp of a renaissance.

The West Side cameras one day will be linked with ones already keeping an eye on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the University of Maryland campus. Eventually, the cameras will be tied into a regional network also covering Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties and will include cameras monitoring highway traffic across the state.

Proponents of police cameras say the system envisioned for Maryland soon could be part of an integrated national surveillance network, with cameras watching people on the streets, in schools, on subways and at ballparks.

Unwarranted government intrusion is the fear of opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the District-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“As anyone who has lived under a totalitarian regime can attest, true freedom is impossible with the knowledge that you are constantly being watched,” David Rocah, staff lawyer for the Maryland ACLU, said in a press release critical of the City Watch Center.

Some residents agree.

“They can just zoom in on you and watch you all day,” said Jamil Zaid, 27, who sells apparel and sunglasses at a street-corner stand beneath one of Baltimore’s new surveillance cameras. “That’s an invasion of privacy.”

His business partner, 26-year-old Marcus Willis, said: “Who’s watching them that is watching us?”

However, many business owners and passers-by in the surveillance zone said they were willing to surrender a little personal anonymity in return for some peace of mind.

“It gives people a feeling of safety, a feeling of security,” said Douglas Jones, 44, as he walked in view of the cameras. “I shouldn’t have to worry [about being watched]. I live a good life.”

At a pawn shop nearby, Randi Caplin stood behind a glass case containing thick gold chains and watches. She said the police cameras were a “double-edged sword.”

“It’s good for our business. It will deter holdups, hopefully,” said Mrs. Caplin, who lives in the suburbs.

“For me, personally, I wouldn’t want myself filmed — everything you do, in and out of every store. … I wouldn’t want to live under those circumstances.”

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