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Oh Big Brother Where Art Thou? Maryland Maybe

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“I’ll be watching you, Focker.” It’s the famous catchphrase uttered by Robert De Niro’s ex-CIA character Jack Burns in the movie Meet the Parents. And if a new $2.4 million network of radar and camera installations situated around Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay works according to program, members of various Maryland law enforcement agencies will be watching you, too.

But it’s not as bad as you think; it might even help rescue you one day.

The Maryland Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN) is a network of strategic camera and radar installations that continually scan Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay looking not only for troublemakers and lawbreakers, but also for emergency situations, such as boaters in distress. Funded primarily by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, the radar system is capable of picking up a three-square-foot object from a distance of seven miles.

In addition, operators can “draw” a geo fence around restricted areas, such as controlled fishing areas, or the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. When a vessel crosses over the pre-set geo fence, an alert is sent to MLEIN operators. This geo-fence capability was recently used by Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) officers to apprehend poachers crossing into (and dredging in) an area closed to oyster dredging. Once a target is spotted, cameras can be used to focus in on the subject and observe before moving in.

The above screen shot from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources shows the system being used to track an oyster poacher crossing into an oyster sanctuary.

But it’s not all about Big Brother keeping a lookout on its citizens, says Candus Thomson, NRP’s public information officer. “The network can be utilized by search and rescue organizations as well,” Thomson says. “Anne Arundel County rescue personnel used the system twice last November to home in on the location of boaters in distress, and has even been used in a fugitive capture situation. Anywhere the cameras can reach, there’s a use for the system, and we’re finding new uses for it every day.”

The system is centrally monitored from a NRP command station at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis but is available more broadly to law enforcement and search and rescue agencies across the state by tapping into MLEIN via the Internet. More cameras and radar installations are planned for the future. Bad boys beware.