back to article Baltimore cops: We flew high-res camera planes to film your every move

Police in Baltimore, US, have admitted hiring a third party to fly over the city, constantly recording events with high-resolution cameras. The admission comes after a Businessweek feature on the company, Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), led to a condemnation of the practice by the ACLU's privacy expert and media …

  1. Nunyabiznes

    Michael Brown

    "The mounting tensions and suspicions between the two sides have only gotten worse with the introduction of military equipment and technology that has further separated communities from police – the most famous example being the extraordinary images of police dressed like an occupying army in Ferguson following riots sparked by the death of an unarmed black man, shot by a white policeman with seemingly little justification."

    You might want to review all the footage available and even possibly listen to the recantations of the witnesses who originally claimed MB was just strolling along the street.

    Contrary to the message being spewed by most media outlets, MB was not an angelic pillar of the community out to get groceries for his disabled neighbor. He was a thug running from a robbery and there were reports (later proven to be inaccurate) that he was armed during the robbery. He had a long and violent history with numerous contacts with the police.

    That being said, everyone involved went way overboard with their reactions. From the police on the ground to BLM to our elected leaders there was hyperbolic messaging galore. Everyone involved carries some guilt for the aftershocks of MB's death.

    BTW, I am a staunch opponent of this movement to militarize the police. We (the US anyway) have specific laws about that that are being run roughshod over.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Michael Brown

      You're missing the point slightly. The problem with the USian rozzers started the minute it became acceptable to shoot someone running away from a possible crime. The rest of it was a slippery slope.

      1. Magani
        Unhappy

        Re: Michael Brown

        It would seem Judge Dredd is alive and well in certain parts of the 'Land of the Free'

      2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Michael Brown

        Too many local Stasis want to erect shrines to Himmler and his underling "Gestapo" Mueller. All to often they forget they supposed to be a civilian police department not a military occupation force. There is a lot of distrust of them with it being most prominent in minority communities who bear the brunt of the occupation forces.

      3. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Michael Brown

        Michael Brown was not shot "while" or "for" running away after committing a crime. He was shot after assaulting a police officer who had stopped him while he was running away. When shot, he was advancing toward the officer.

        The officer involved probably made a tactical procedural error during the stop, in putting himself in a position of some disadvantage in opposition to a larger and considerably heavier opponent, but Michael Brown made larger errors in assaulting and later advancing on an armed police officer.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Michael Brown

          He was shot after assaulting a police officer who had stopped him while he was running away

          That is exactly my point. In every other country, a lone cop will not play a Bronson/Eastwood themed vigilante hero after an armed robbery.

          The rules of engagement explicitly prohibit this exactly because there is a significant likelihood that the confrontation will escalate and the suspect will not be brought to justice.

          The suspect will be traced, often left to cool down a bit and arrested without collateral damage on the QT using force which is sufficiently excessive for him not to consider trying his luck. The rare cases when police goes into a shootout scenario are usually when they get someone _BEFORE_ they commit a crime based on intelligence and with the knowledge that they are armed. These are also planned and clusterf*** like the UK Azelle Rodney case are quite rare.

          1. tom dial Silver badge

            Re: Michael Brown

            Michael Brown did not commit an armed robbery.

            I do not know what police patrol practices are in "every other country." In the US, use of two officer patrol cars fell into disuse beginning around 50 years ago because an increased number of cars with one officer each provides much better coverage at constant cost or similar coverage at reduced cost. The rules of engagement do not prohibit an officer from making a stop, but officers normally will report they are doing so (as I believe officer Wilson did in the Michael Brown incident) and nearby officers will converge on the scene.

            Before routine use of patrol cars, foot patrol often was done by solitary officers, but those were different times.

      4. collinsl

        Re: Michael Brown

        Let's be clear here - Michael Brown attacked the officer and tried to steal his weapon. He then ran away, the officer gave chase (as they do), and Michael Brown turne around and started charging at the officer. That's when the officer shot him.

        It was legitimate self defence, nothing more. The fact that people can't see that through a storm of racism and police violence issues is saddening, but this case should not be the cause for rioting or for calling the police corrupt or militarised.

        Perhaps the response of both sides was over-exaggerated, but with the recent shooting in Dallas of police by a sniper you can see why the police want the level of protection they have - a level of protection which is available to any US citizen without a felony conviction or mental disorder I should add.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Michael Brown

          Let's be clear here - Michael Brown attacked the officer

          The officer engaged him without backup and in what would have been in contravention of training and policy in _ALL_ developed countries except USA. If a British or German officer would have shown such "initiative" they would be looking at the very least at a reprimand if not at gross misconduct proceedings. Even if the subject was alive after the encounter.

          In fact, in all of Europe it is standard practice for the police to _PULL_ out patrols from the path of armed criminals escaping after a robbery to ensure that they are met properly prepared, by a trained SWAT squad at a set-up checkpoint and with overwhelming force. None of the "hunt" idiocies you see in the USA (which are even transmitted live on some TV stations).

          This is the core of the problem - most USA cops dream of being Judge Dredd. This is not policing. Policing means upholding the law and the law says to put the subject in front of a judge and jury for sentencing. It is Wild West on-the-spot justice.

          As far as police being militarised, well - it is. To the teeth in most of USA. There is only a handful of cities in the USA which have not allowed the police to use its budge to go shopping from the Homeland security surplus military equipment and training programme. I know of only one in fact (a small town in NH).

          1. Dan Paul

            Re: Michael Brown

            WHAT BACKUP do you call when you are attacked and too busy struggling to get your gun back?

            More liberal excuses for thugs who have no more civil rights once they perpetrate a crime!

        2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: Michael Brown

          "It was legitimate self defence"

          In other jurisdictions it may be adjudged as an over reaction. The officer is presumably fit and trained in the art of self defence and should be able to deal with a felon effectively without lethal force.

          I was not there and there may be evidence of other weapons, some incapacity in the cop, the felon being a 4th Dan black belt karate expert - those are facts for the courts, or rather the jury, to decide.

          I also question the capabilities of a cop that let the felon get close enough to grab for his gun.

      5. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: Michael Brown

        became acceptable to shoot someone running away from a possible crime

        became acceptable to shoot someone running away

        FTFY

      6. kain preacher Silver badge

        Re: Michael Brown

        SCOTUS says you can;t shoot a person just for running.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Michael Brown

      He was a thug running from a robbery

      In _ALL_ developed countries around the world bar one that will never ever be considered as a justification for summary execution on the street. He will be tracked, traced, cornered and apprehended with the minimal amount of direct and collateral damage so he can face a fair trial. If the fair trial decides he should be hanged like a dog, then so be it (though, once again, most developed countries have suspended or banned the death penalty nowdays).

      The mere fact that "running away" is even mentioned as an excuse shows what is fundamentally wrong with USA police, justice system and the country as a whole. This is not justice, it is vigilantism in a police uniform.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Michael Brown

        > In _ALL_ developed countries around the world bar one that will never ever be considered as a justification for summary execution on the street.

        And that is EXACTLY the problem.

        Policing only works by consent, If there's not consent the police are just a another paramilitary gang with uniforms and state backing.

        It's interesting to note that in the late 1980s, New York City issued a specific order that officers were not to shoot at fleeing suspects and that officers who did so would be charged (this was after a number of wrongful death lawsuits).

        In the 1970s, family friends of mine were forced to the pavement and handcuffed by a cop in Los Angeles with weapon drawn after simply approaching him on the street for directions.

        It seems that the problem for authorities is not that the police are being more thuggish, but that the ubiquitousness of cameras means that the problem can't be covered up anymore.

        The USA has no centralised register of bad cops, so even the ones who end up with criminal records for corrupt behaviour end up working in law enforcement somewhere else. The ubiquitousness of surveillance works both ways and if the "authorities" won't do it then the citiizenry has the power to keep records too.

      2. Dan Paul

        Re: Michael Brown

        Brown wasn't shot running away from the Police, he was shot as he grabbed the gun of Officer Wilson and tried to shoot HIM. He did not put his hands up and say don't shoot! This would not have even happened if he wasn't a thug who assaulted a convenience store employee to steal "Swisher Sweets" so he could roll a blunt. The assault is on video on the internet.

        That's what your entirely biased media lied about in their efforts to paint him as a victim.

        I cannot believe that the people here are STILL that brainwashed and ignorant that they believe the unmitigated BS that the Alphabet media purveys.

  2. Sebastian A

    "Citizens of Peach Trees. This is the law. Disperse immediately or we will use lethal force to clear the area."

  3. Sebastian A

    It's starting to look less like citizens and protectors and more like animals and zookeepers. Does a chimp get to complain? No, if they act out they get segregated.

  4. Herby Silver badge

    Scott McNealy was right

    For the curious link

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scott McNealy was right

      I love the irony in you using Google for that link..

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big surprise

    And this kind of shit is EXACTLY why the divide between the police and the citizenry continues to widen.

    And I'll add that when you dress them like military, arm them like military, train them like military and hire them directly from the military, guess what happens? You get an organization hell bent on doing what the military does, and that's fight. It's no surprise we're seeing an ongoing battle between "police" (more like the paramilitary) and the citizens they are supposed to serve.

    1. C0p3n

      Re: Big surprise

      It seems they are the only ones hiring at all where I live (scary, how many cops do we need?). They seem to prey on National Guard units heavily.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: Big surprise

      Seconded.

      For a while, I lived in a neighborhood where they decided to disband the police department and replaced it with "Community Counselors". They played a role very similar to what the Police are supposed to e, but they were trained to approach situations from a point of view of "You shouldn't drive through a red light because you might hurt someone you didn't see" rather than "You broke the law, here is a ticket". The end result was the same (A fine was issued) but the reaction from the ticketed person was completely different. It also helped that when someone paid a fine, they'd receive a receipt that details where the money went (most red-light tickets went to replacing intersections with round-a-bouts).

      They'd also do 'good-will' patrols where they'd go through a neighborhood and ask if anyone needed help with anything and would help with everything form helping the elderly with groceries, to talking with a neighbor to find a compromise for an unsightly hedge. It also helped that they were hired from the neighborhoods they'd patrol so the department would be representative of the area's citizens.

      Complaints dropped significantly (somewhere between 90-95%) and the crime-rate plummeted as well. Something that the old police department went bankrupt trying to fix by building out CCTV networks, install speed / red light cameras, increase staffing, and buy more powerful equipment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Big surprise

        the old police department went bankrupt trying to fix by building out CCTV networks, install speed / red light cameras, increase staffing, and buy more powerful equipment.

        Ah yes, but what a profit was made by the suppliers until that happened! Or did you really think that the police militarisation has *anything* to do with a desire to make citizens safer?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Big surprise

        Try that in Chicago. They are single greatest source of gun violence stats in the USA and 99.9% are black on black crimes regardless of what the British BS network says.

        Oh, and an Obama supporting mayor Rahm Emmanuel created the most stringent gun laws in America there too!

        Funny but if you took out the major cities in America that have Democrat Mayors out from the ridiculously slanted gun violence stats, America would be the 35th in line not the first.

    3. Mog_X

      Re: Big surprise

      "It always embarrassed Samuel Vimes when civilians tried to speak to him in what they thought was “policeman.” If it came to that, he hated thinking of them as civilians. What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians the only other thing they could be was soldiers."

  6. Crazy Operations Guy
    Joke

    They didn't hide their actions...

    ...the notice was on public display, in the bottom drawer of locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door reading "Beware of Leopard". The lavatory, of course being in the basement where all the lights had gone out, in the local City Council office.

    1. collinsl

      Re: They didn't hide their actions...

      > sign on the door reading "Beware of Keyboard". The lavatory,

      What keyboard is that?

      https://xkcd.com/1031/

  7. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Don't worry...

    > uses a bank of cameras on a plane to provide a live-feed and 45-day archive of all activity in a 30-square-mile area

    This is just an intermediate step and will only last a few years. After that, there will be laws requiring all citizens to wear a bodycam at all times so that all actions and speech are recorded and uploaded to a police database. The penalty for having a 'faulty' bodycam will be rather large, of course.

    On the bright side, children will be able to choose between a "Hello Kitty" or "Power Rangers" body cam. :-)

    1. Notas Badoff Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Don't worry... But paranoia is quite justified.

      All you need is continuous access to the dozen cameras that every autonomous driverless car will have recording everything that happens anywhere that cars can go. Who needs to pay for the extra gas for a police plane/helicopter when Joe Public's car will easily rat out Jill Public's getaway from that bank robbery. Or whatever is the crime du heure, three weeks later.

      We *really* need to get into the mode of starting with every dystopian scifi misanthropy ever imagined, and ask "how are we going to stop that from happening?" Because the current method of attempting to react belatedly to the "who knew they would do that?" just isn't going to work. All those bad things will become true unless we actively, oh damn, *proactively*, guard against them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't worry... But paranoia is quite justified.

        All you need is continuous access to the dozen cameras that every autonomous driverless car will have recording everything that happens anywhere that cars can go. Who needs to pay for the extra gas for a police plane/helicopter when Joe Public's car will easily rat out Jill Public's getaway from that bank robbery. Or whatever is the crime du heure, three weeks later.

        Yup. We dodged a bullet with Google Glass not catching on, but it might still happen - they will keep trying. Google has worked out that spying on the population will be without consequences as long as they share the results with government.

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Don't worry...

      When I read the article it reminded me of Bob Shaw's excellent idea of "Slow Glass" where light would take a lot longer to go through it. Some govmt org then seeded the continent with little pellets of it so if there was ever a crime you just had to find a pellet nearby and wait for the imagery to come through to see who did it.

      Who needs privacy?

      1. Peb

        Re: Don't worry...

        I always wondered just how many lung diseases would be reported after such a 'seeding'

  8. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

    I'm looking forward to the day when the all-seeing-eye spots no-goodnik neighbors who slyly let their dog crap on my lawn. After these villians get tracked back to their homes, the local SWAT team can no-knock raid them (bonus points if during entry SWAT shoots the scat-scattering pooch when he barks at the door-busting!). Then after a show trial where the offenders are shown the photographic proof of their antisocial behavior my former neighborinos can be carted off to Guantanamo Bay, which I understand has some room now.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

      Ya know...I get that this is supposed to be sarcasm. But as Herr Drumpf has aptly shown, bad sarcasm is worse than no sarcasm, and there are some things one just shouldn't joke about. There are yutzes out there that will misconstrue sarcasm for instructions.

      1. moiety

        Re: Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

        Theresa May, for one.

      2. G.Y.

        Re: Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

        I don't think Mr. Marketing Hack is running for US president

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

          Unless of course, Marketing Hack is Theresa or Donald Drumpf's pseudonym.

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

            Re: Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

            @AC

            Yes, I'm really Donald Trump. When I'm Prez it will be beee-ootiful! The prisons you fill will be the classiest joints this side of Atlantic City!!

    2. Martin Maloney
      Trollface

      Re: Personally, I applaud the use of this technology.

      Instead, just buy a cow and allow it to roam onto your neighbors' lawn!

      (Would I give you a bum steer?)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Land of the freely seen

    Hats off please gentlemen.

  10. Baldy50

    Double edged sword.

    They don't like being filmed and recorded though!

    As a teenager growing up in an area where the police were just mean at every turn, my friends and I on mopeds etc would be moved on if more than two us of stopped outside a shop or chippy or anywhere for that matter. If you'd stuck a camera anywhere near a police officer in my day you'd have it knocked out of your hand in a second.

    One New Years at Trafalgar square for the celebrations, everyone was being checked for whatever and when the met checked the four of us they found cans of beer.

    "Were not supposed to let you in with beer you know!". (PAUSE) "You seem nice lads, don't cause any problems, OK!" We new what that meant. They let us in and later on that evening had a beer with us, the atmosphere was brilliant, a very well managed event!

    One asked where are you guys from? We said "Cheshire" the reply was "We call the police up there the Gurkha's, they'd do their own mother!"

    The young especially are rebellious by nature and when pushed or feel mistreated will react in a particular way every time, it breeds disrespect and a lack of trust.

    When a march or demonstration turns into a riot it's nearly always police tactics that provoke the violence, if the cause offends or embarrasses someone in power and the demonstration goes sour it diminishes the message and plays into the hands of those who stand to lose face.

    I'd like to think the MET's mentality was different than the police up North but might just have been too weary from all the unchallenged overtime, kicking the shit out of coal minors and their supporters day after day.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Double edged sword.

      "I'd like to think the MET's mentality was different than the police up North" .. depending on how far North you go, it is definitely different .. while at uni, i was there when another student was assaulted in a pub, Tayside police turned up, assailant said "he's English, f*ck him" - the police agreed & walked away.

      The Met probably would have started a second round of fighting, but nobody would have seen anything, honest.

      Neither is a shining example of public service ...

    2. collinsl

      Re: Double edged sword.

      > it's nearly always police tactics that provoke the violence

      No, it's the small group of people who go from protest to protest merely to stir it up and incite a riot because they enjoy it and because they can get away with it.

  11. Tom 64
    Pint

    Ah, McNulty

    That's what you have been up to!

  12. dan1980

    "Once the police have a tool they are going to want to use it."

    Absolutely. But worse than that, once the police have a tool, they will insist that it is essential and its removal unthinkable. Then, they will use the existence of the tool to argue that further measures are justified and acceptable.

    Everyone (not me . . .) accepts CCTV cameras in the city so why is there a problem with constant drone surveillance? Everyone accepts constant drone surveillance so why is there a problem with tracking all people via GPS?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      To play Devils advocate for a moment, all this technology really could be incredibly useful for solving crimes and catching the bad'uns. The problem is, we don't live in a perfect world where ever Police officer is honest and pure as the driven snow. So we need checks and balances, robust procedures, to make sure the system cannot be abused. Except we don't and it is. And if the world was that perfect we probably wouldn't have any crime or a need for cops anyway.

      The sad thing is that children are growing up in a surveillance culture and most seem to accept it.

      1. dan1980

        @John Brown

        When discussing this issue, I find it can help to imagine a society that has been made very safe due to increased use of such 'tools'.

        The specifics might vary but this society would track every activity (and conversation) of every single person, for every minute of the day. This could be accomplished through biometrics, with the result being that every thing we do requires us to authenticate ourselves. Every time you walk into a building (be it a coffee shop or office or your own home), every time you buy something - no matter how small - every time you use the Internet, every time you open your car door or start the engine. Every time you dial a phone number. Every time you get on or off public transport. Etc . . .

        Camera with advanced facial recognition on every wall and corner and, because you can't turn a blind eye to crimes occurring inside private dwellings, state-run cameras and microphones installed in every room of every home. Yes, even the bathroom - because people could be storing their illegal drugs behind the mirror.

        It's hard to argue that such a scenario wouldn't help prevent crime and catch criminals but it's pretty obvious that such a society would be rather unpleasant.

        That's why its so dangerous when policing measures are justified purely on whether they work - as though effectiveness is somehow the only criterion we should be concerned with.

        It's all about deciding what kind of society we want because sometimes a safer society requires measures that make us a less free society - you can't always have both so getting the priorities right is paramount.

        If we don't then we will continue to be led around by those who are concerned only with short-term effectiveness with no regard for long-term outcomes.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          That's why its so dangerous when policing measures are justified purely on whether they work - as though effectiveness is somehow the only criterion we should be concerned with.

          Haven't we all been raised to understand that the only that counts is results? It's a corporate mentality but seems to have spread through sports (at all levels), grades in school, etc. Means to an end and all that. Not a good thing though for us citizens.

  13. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    too much of this sort of thing in the UK, eg https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/25/men-seek-answers-after-being-arrested-at-gunpoint-by-kent-police

    arrogant and unaccountable.

  14. Alan Brown Silver badge

    two sides

    On the one hand this can be scrolled through to find the criminals.

    On the other hand the exact same technology can be used to scroll through every single case of police interaction with civilians where there are accusations of malfeasance.

    Whats the bet that this footage mysteriously goes missing?

  15. Brian Allan 1

    Sounds like a great idea! Unless, of course, you have something to hide...

  16. kain preacher Silver badge

    "That's not the only unusual detail: the cost of the program – described as "Google Earth with Tivo" – was covered by a Texas billionaire, something that critics say was a useful way for the police to avoid having to ask permission to carry out the surveillance"

    Um that's not true if you are acting on the behave or and gent of the police you need permission.

    IE the local plod thinks that some is using FEDex to ship drugs and asked fedex to open up said package they would need a warrant. If fedex did it on it's own then that would be legal. If this was not true the police could ask people to break into some house to look for evidence.

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