A new report from The Baltimore Sun shows Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday pledged $21 million to assist Baltimore City in their efforts to stop the spread of the homicide crisis that has completely engulfed the town. Hogan has also endorsed the use of a controversial surveillance plane to fly thousands of feet above to record every movement of people and vehicles in the city.
As early as 2015, we reported that Persistent Surveillance Systems was flying a Cessna 182T Skylane over the streets of Baltimore during the riots. It turned out the plane was a secret FBI aerial surveillance program.
In a follow-up piece, “Meet The FBI’s Secret Eye In The Sky Overseeing The Baltimore Riots,” we postulated that the spy plane monitoring the riots may have been equipped with night vision equipment provided by Persistent Surveillance Systems, a company which has worked with the Baltimore Police Department in the past. Here’s a schematic (via WaPo):
Persistent Surveillance Systems conducted 300 hours of surveillance in 2016 in Baltimore as part of a pilot program, was able to record footage of 32 square miles of the city at any given moment.
Hogan is the highest-profile Maryland official to publicly endorse the use of the spy plane via a new letter to Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
“We urge you to implement this program immediately,” Hogan said in a letter to Young.
Young and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said there’s a strong possibility that the spy plane might fly again, which city officials grounded in 2016 after a massive uproar from the public.
Young and Harrison have recently held talks with Ross McNutt, founder of Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems.
“You have inherited a difficult situation, but now is the time to show the people of the city that we are all serious about stopping this deadly violence and getting shooters off of the streets,” Hogan said in the letter.
However, not everyone is on board with the spy plane flying again.
David Rocah, a senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, warned Tuesday against a return of the spy plane.
“Governor Hogan is as wrong and misguided as Ross McNutt,” Rocah said. “His endorsement of it demonstrates the contempt with which he holds the residents of Baltimore, who are the ones who will have a virtual police officer following their every movement ― not the governor.”
Rocah also condemned McNutt’s lobbying effort.
“It’s being pushed by people outside of Baltimore,” Rocah said. “It’s a cynical attempt to use the failings of public safety in Baltimore as a government power grab. There’s nothing more despicable than that.”
McNutt told The Sun that the plane could resume flying for three years, without any cost to taxpayers, thanks to donations. He also said donors could pay for multiple spy planes that would allow round the clock coverage of the city. After the three-year pilot program, the city would then need to pay for the program.
“Baltimore needs all the help it can get,” McNutt said of Hogan’s letter. “We would be happy to come back and help as quickly as possible.”
Former City Councilwoman Rochelle Spector said the spy plane is a good idea. She plans on using the governor’s letter to push Young and Harrison to revive the program.
The possible resurrection of the Baltimore spy plane program comes at a time when homicides are expected to reach record levels by the end of 2019.