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.