All flight operations for Baltimore’s spy plane program will be canceled today, Saturday (Oct. 31), a Baltimore City Police (BPD) spokeswoman told WBALTV 11. Grounding of the spy plane comes as surveillance flights failed to deter violent crime in the metro area.
Called the Aerial Investigation Research program (AIR), readers may recall we’ve highlighted this dystopic surveillance program several times (see: here & here), of civilian planes, outfitted with high-tech, possibly military optical sensors, recording citizens’ every move.
Since April, the program has been in operation, providing support to investigators who solve violent crimes, such as murders, robberies, and carjackings.
The program was financed solely by Texas philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, via their organizations called Arnold Ventures. The plane’s optical sensor is able to record large swaths of the city at a given time.
A BPD spokesperson told WJZ 13: “We will continue to work with our vendor, independent evaluators, and stakeholders to provide additional analysis, briefings and related activities.”
Last month, BPD published a preliminary report on the spy plane’s effectiveness. The report found only 17 of the 121 homicides in the city between May 1 and Aug. 20 happened during flight hours.
“Evidence from the planes was used in 107 cases out of a total of 874. The report concluded the program helped close a number of homicide cases and more arrests were made in cases with air evidence than without,” WJZ said.
City officials hoped the spy plane program would reduce violent crime in a city where the murder rate is some of the highest in the country. Though, judging by homicides trends below, the program has failed to reduce homicides this year.
Opponents of the surveillance program, including the ACLU of Maryland, have been up in arms about the planes buzzing overhead – they argued the program had violated the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights of residents.