A company that sends Cessna aircraft to surveil cities from 25,000 feet up in an effort to fight crime has been watching Baltimore for months now with zero public notification, according to a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek.
The firm, Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), has been actively trying to get new contracts with large cities nationwide. When Ars profiled the company in 2014, company CEO Ross McNutt said PSS was trying to work with Chicago after having controversially flown for nine days over Compton, California—adjacent to Los Angeles—in 2012.
PSS has evidently now succeeded in Baltimore. As Businessweek reported, the Baltimore project was funded by two Texan philanthropists, John and Laura Arnold, who said that if the company could find a city to partner with, they would fund it.
Eventually McNutt worked his connections with the Baltimore Police Department, which arranged for payment via something called the Baltimore Community Foundation, a local group that describes itself as a “philanthropic foundation created by and for the people of Greater Baltimore, where many donors join together to make the region they love a better place, today and for future generations.”
In January 2016, McNutt and his team opened a small office above a downtown parking garage marked with a sign that simply reads “Community Support Program.” As Businessweek noted, a former Baltimore cop acts as a liaison between the Baltimore Police Department and PSS, which receives a printout of all of the logged crimes from the previous day.