Inviting community engagement in a security camera network

The Bolton Hill Camera Network (BHCN) is an initiative being organized to be operated by Bolton Hill residents to enhance safety and security in the neighborhood.  It would allow residents, as well as neighborhood apartment buildings, institutions and businesses, to share footage from Ring, Nest or other cameras of incidents that threaten neighborhood safety and security.  The compiled footage, in turn, could be shared with police to help them with evidence for cases.

A small camera network has existed for a few years in the southeast part of Bolton Hill.  Two residents monitor the existing network and post related content on a designated YouTube channel from shared camera footage of fellow residents.

BHCN would not be part of the CitiWatch Program, which has approximately 18 cameras located in Bolton Hill.  CitiWatch is a one-way arrangement, where if Baltimore City Police believe your registered CitiWatch camera has captured a crime, they may visit your home to obtain footage of the incident.  CitiWatch does not make its camera lists available, nor share information with the community, nor respond to community requests for camera locations or footage in the vicinity of a crime.

In contrast, BHCN would be neighborhood controlled.  Camera locations are available to those participating and participants voluntarily choose whether to share footage with each other and the police. Anyone could register a camera with CitiWatch and still participate in the BHCN.

A summary of draft BHCN policies currently include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • The BHCN is designed to help identify persons involved in crimes within Bolton Hill.
  • The BHCN is also designed to help in identifying suspicious activity that could precede or prevent or follow a crime. Potentially suspicious activity is defined as individuals or groups who peer into cars, vestibules, buildings, or over fences; who carry tools such as bolt cutters and other equipment that could be used to illegally break into private property; or may appear around the time when a crime occurred. 
  • The BHCN is NOT a tool for continuously surveilling neighborhood activity, nor for profiling individuals based on race, clothing, or other observable characteristics.
  • Participants in the BHCN would fill out an online survey form containing pertinent information such as camera location, type of camera and contact information. This information would only be shared with others participating on the BHCN, members of the BHCA Executive Committee, the BHCA Safety and Security Committee, and technical operators and advisors to the BHCN.
  • Camera footage would be compiled and uploaded to a designated YouTube channel, which can be accessed by anyone with a link to it but not through searches on YouTube.
  • Any individual captured on BHCN video can request that the camera footage be deleted.
  • BHCA will work with the Baltimore Police Department to assist in preventing and solving crimes in Bolton Hill.  The police shall not have access to the personal information of any participant in the BHCN, nor directly ask any individual BHCN member for information.

Comments on the proposed policy and process for the BHCN were solicited from members of the Bolton Hill community in March. Five comments and a separate group letter from a few members of the community were received. Four comments were supportive of the idea of a camera network and one was opposed. The group letter requested additional oversight for the BHCN to ensure it is not misused and that collated footage be kept private to share with police when necessary.

This feedback is exactly what the BHCA safety and security committee needs to hear from the community to make sure that the BHCN is responsibly developed.  The safety and security committee will continue working with members of the community and the police to create an effective policy and process to be eventually approved by the BHCA board of directors.

This is the second of a series of articles on safety and security in Bolton Hill by Jim Prost, chairperson of the BHCA Safety and Security Committee, please contact him at safety@BoltonhillMD.org.

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