Surveillance in the Sky

Cameras helped police make 1,500 arrests in just one neighborhood.
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Rich Van Wyk/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - We all know police can't be in every place all the time. But some city streets may have a "hidden" officer watching. Indianapolis, like other major cities, is putting up high-tech surveillance cameras. While the idea is new to Indianapolis, some of the nation's deadliest cities say the eyes in the sky are working to cut crime.
While Indianapolis battles a bloody crime wave in 2006, Baltimore is floundering in a sea of violence, including more than five murders every week and 34 killings in the first 43 days of 2007. Yet Baltimore, ranked among America's deadliest cities, has what Indianapolis wants: the technology to watch crime-plagued neighborhoods without being out on the street.  

"This system gives Baltimore police an extra set of eyes on the street," said Beth Hart, Baltimore Police Department.

To be precise, it offers police 350 eyes. The video pod cameras are perched on utility poles and street lights, panning, zooming, focusing, and recording every hour of the day and night.

So far the Baltimore PD has over 1,500 arrests attributed to one area where the cameras are installed. Baltimore launched its Citi-Watch surveillance system about 18 months ago. Some $6.5 million worth of cameras and computers watch over seven of the city's most troublesome areas.

Civilian employees manipulate the cameras and when they see a crime, they call police.
When a crime is called in, cameras get there first, helping officers find the suspect.

When a little Baltimore girl vanished last October, cameras captured her abduction. Video showed her walking down the street with her abductor. Police followed the trail of recorded video through the neighborhood to her abductor's home.

Overall Baltimore police say violent crime is down eighteen percent. Before the cameras went up, beat cops say one of the neighborhoods to get the cameras was teeming with people who were not the kind that residents really wanted in their neighborhood.

Lillian Gradison has lived in Baltimore for over 30 years. She says before the cameras went up there was lots of trouble outside her door. "People jumping all over the cars and selling drugs. It was like a dungeon; it was terrible over here. Now it's beautiful," she said from her doorway.

In Indianapolis on the east side at the intersection of Michigan and Rural, there are many problems police are keeping watch over. This high-crime area is the place IMPD installed the first neighborhood surveillance camera. During the first month of operation, police say their response for service here has dropped 30 percent.

Residents tell Eyewitness News they hear fewer sirens and gunshots and see fewer men loitering and causing trouble. While cameras are a deterrent, it's not the entire solution to rising crime. Just take a look at Baltimore's homicide rate for 2006: 272 people were murdered, three more than the pervious year.

The IMPD surveillance system is miniscule by comparison. One camera is running on auto pilot. If there is a crime, police have to go up and retreive the video.

However, the city plans to have 17 cameras watching high-crime areas by the end of March.  Officers will watch from laptops in their patrol cars, or from a central monitoring and recording station. They will be looking for crime as it happens, and looking to catch the people responsible.

March 2008 update: Indianapolis will get 20 more crime cameras installed in various neighborhoods this week.