As Baltimore’s homicide rate continues to rise to near-record levels, the city announced this weekend that it’s received a multi-million dollar donation from billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s foundation for new police surveillance gadgets.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has donated $5 million to pay for 60 new closed-circuit Citiwatch cameras and 25 mobile license-plate readers, as well as 10 square miles’ worth of gunshot-detection technology, according to a release from Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office. The devices will be deployed in areas with “documented violent crime where there are clear gaps in technology coverage.”
The city already has 750 fixed cameras on light poles and buildings, which you may have spotted by the blue light they emit at night. The addition of 60 new ones will be the largest expansion of the system since 2012.
The mayor’s office said the 25 new license-plate readers for patrol cars will raise the number of readers currently in use by 60 percent, allowing more officers to perform immediate license plate checks rather than awaiting information by calling plate numbers in to run through law enforcement databases.
And for the gunshot-detection system, police will expand their use of ShotSpotter, which detects sounds and gunfire and pushes alerts to officers regardless of whether 911 has been called.
The technologies will be deployed through the first half of next year.
Council President Jack Young said in a statement that constituents often contact him about wanting more cameras and other “vigilance” in their neighborhoods.
“I’m extremely pleased to see the City directing resources to tools that have demonstrated success in keeping communities safe,” he said.
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ bankroll isn’t even the first boost the department has seen in 2017. Earlier this summer, Pugh revealed after lengthy talks with Gov. Larry Hogan that the governor’s office had agreed to fund more than $9 million worth of police salaries, new technology and training, as well as a program focusing on helping young adults.
But that was just public money. Police in July unveiled a newly renovated Western District Police Station, refurbished with $4.5 million in private dollars from developer Scott Plank’s War Horse Cities, the Baltimore Ravens, the Abell Foundation and other organizations. (Plank infamously referred to detainees as “customers” during a presentation of the station.)
Bloomberg Philanthropies also helped pay for a distribution deal for the documentary “Step,” focusing on a local step team’s journey, earlier this year. More broadly, the foundation’s namesake has donated more than $1 billion over time to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, and has helped fund the future of a very good public health school there with his name on it.