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Baltimore's BID for Safe Streets Leads the Way

When Baltimore started its business improvement district, or BID, five years ago, it included a video-patrol project - closed-circuit cameras fixed on heavily traveled street corners. Police or BID personnel monitor activity.

In some areas, crime has dropped by 50 percent. Michael Evitts, spokesman for the Baltimore BID, says officials from all over the United States and the world have checked out their system.

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But civil libertarians still object. "The cameras are not a constitutional violation, because they're in a public place, but we do have concerns with them as a matter of public policy," says Dwight Sullivan, a lawyer at the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's an Orwellian nightmare - Big Brother is watching from the street corners."

Mr. Sullivan is also concerned that the cameras just push crime into areas where no one's watching. And, he adds, some cities, including Miami Beach and Newark, N.J., have abandoned video surveillance as too costly.

Still, Washington's downtown propertyowners want to try video monitoring when they start their privately funded security system in December. The head of Washington's BID promises the tapes will be erased every day.

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