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September 11, 2009

Top cop nixes cameras in bars

Baltimore's top cop has decided against hooking up a video camera inside Shirley's Honey Hole to his vast surveillance network. The bar owner had agreed to this unique and some would say troubling expansion of police surveillance as a condition of keeping her East Oliver Street tavern from being padlocked as a city nuisance.

Lawyers agreed to the terms on Monday before a public hearing. The owner, Shirley Barner, also agreed to close her bar for the entire month of October and hire a security guard. Police said the bar attracted drug dealers, noted three shootings outside the tavern in June and said drugs were being sold and stashed in the vestibule (above, an example of one type of police surveillance camera, in a picture by The Sun's Karl Merton Ferron).

But allowing police to watch a live video feed from inside a private business seemed troubling. Even though Barner and her attorney consented, the fact it was part of a plea raised questions as to whether she was pressured and whether the city would start forcing this provision to other places througout the city.

In the end, though, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III decided he can't have cops watching the insides of bars (they already have more than 450 camera feeds to keep track of) and it raised too many liability questions. What happens if a cop sees someone doing something illegal -- they've had to act, and that could be quite frequently. Also, the cameras could be used as an excuse by the owner to shift responsibilty for enforcing rules to the police, which they certainly don't have time to do for one bar.

We're already watched just about everywhere we go, from train stations to the Inner Harbor to the stadiums. Live video feeds to police seemed an intrusion into the last bastion of freedom -- the corner bar.

"It's not a place for government inside a private business," Bealefeld's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi told me.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:28 AM | | Comments (2)


I am soooo glad.

Who says it has to be the police doing the monitoring? All Shirley Barner has to do, is start a website,"Shirleys Honey" and inform the customers they are now internet stars. Now, the monitoring can be done by anyone with a computer... .including Shirley!

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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