By Katharine Wilson
Representatives of the University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) met with the city council on April 5 to discuss adding funding for live-video monitoring capacity to the fiscal 2023 budget. Live-monitored cameras are used to alert patrol officers to dangerous situations and potential crimes; the fiscal 2022 budget funded record-only cameras. Councilmembers approved funding live-monitoring cameras in the FY 2023 budget, so this program will again be up and running in portions of the city.
“The university leadership respectfully ask the city to reinstate the monitor and the live monitoring of the city’s closed circuit TV cameras,” said University of Maryland (UMD) Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Carlo Colella.
Previously, UMPD live-monitored 21 cameras placed in areas of the city with high levels of student activity, with 18 cameras in the Old Town neighborhood and three on Baltimore Avenue. The 2023 budget includes funding for 22 live-monitored cameras in the city. The university also has some 500 live-monitored cameras on campus.
UMD students employed by the university’s Security Operations Center (SOC) help monitor on-campus cameras for the university’s police department. With funding reinstated, SOC employees will also monitor the cameras in the city, as they did previously.
According to Colella, approximately 70 part-time students work in the SOC alongside permanent staff members. The student employees are supervised by UMPD.
Without the live-monitoring service, cameras in the city’s areas with high student activity would be record-only, like cameras in the rest of the city. Recordings from such cameras are typically used by police investigators if a possible crime is suspected in an area.
Using live-monitored cameras will cost the city $592 per camera per month, compared to $88 for record-only cameras.
The live-monitoring program started in FY 2011, and the university footed the bill for this service, at no cost to the city, for three years. The city has reimbursed the university a cost-per-camera fee annually since FY 2014.
UMPD Chief David Mitchell discussed with the council the importance of these live-monitored cameras for crime prevention and community safety. Mitchell recounted an instance when an employee monitoring a camera spotted an individual who appeared to be about to jump off of a parking garage. The department successfully intervened.
“One of our major concerns is the increased call for service as well as mental health,” Mitchell said.
The council responded to Mitchell’s presentation. “Live-monitoring, in addition to police patrols and other safety precautions, can assist with a more proactive response to criminal and safety issues that arise,” Councilmember Llatera Brown Esters (District 2) noted.
Some councilmembers expressed concerns about the price of the program during the worksession, questioning if live-monitoring was more effective than hiring an additional patrol officer. They also expressed concern over the lack of data indicating effectiveness of live-monitoring in the city.
Councilmember John Rigg (District 3) suggested that businesses monitored by the cameras could be designated in a special tax district to help fund live-monitoring services. The council is expected to address this in an upcoming worksession.
“Even if only a handful of people avoid being beaten or robbed or worse as a result of this, I think it is money well spent,” said Councilmember Susan Whitney (District 2).