A police officer gets a call in his patrol car about a crime at a shopping center miles away. He flips open a laptop computer and goes to a Web site that carries real-time feeds from surveillance cameras. He links with a camera at the shopping center and can immediately see what's going on at the crime scene.
Police in Baltimore County have not quite achieved this level of technological prowess, but they will if County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz has his way. He calls such technology "a force multiplier."
The county has applied for $300,000 in federal grants to the Department of Homeland Security for the digital systems necessary to bring streaming crime scene video to patrol cars.
The advantages of such technology are obvious. The county is already putting up cameras in public spaces such as commercial corridors and neighborhoods to give police a better "eye in the sky."
But shopping centers are businesses and the cost of the necessary security upgrades would be borne by them. Shopping center operators upgraded their security systems just two years ago to comply with a county law and the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce raised the issue of cost back then. Kamenetz said he would consider a tax credit as a way of encouraging business owners to spend the money.
Meanwhile, a video surveillance expert in the county estimates that only about six shopping centers have the equipment in place now to permit Web-based viewing.
"Our county must be on the cutting edge," Kamenetz said.
But cutting edge usually comes at a high cost.
If the cost is too high, business and shopping center owners may balk, lobby against supporting legislation or -- worst yet -- promote the idea that Baltimore County is not friendly to commercial interests.
We charge Kamenetz with putting together an incentive package that brings shopping centers willingly into the system.