St. Louis aldermen narrowly endorse 18-hour aircraft surveillance

St. Louis Post Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — By the narrowest of margins, the Board of Aldermen on Friday endorsed a potential aerial surveillance program aimed at helping police investigate the city’s soaring violent crime problem.

The board voted 15-14 to give preliminary approval to the measure. It would direct Mayor Lyda Krewson or her successor to contract with an Ohio-based company proposing to fly airplanes up to 18 hours a day over the city.

Opponents warned that the plan posed a threat to civil liberties because the cameras could track every movement on a wide swath of city streets at any given time.

Alderman Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward, called it “a dystopic, totalitarian way of monitoring every citizen and every worker in the city of St. Louis.” Dan Guenther, D-9th Ward, said it was part of a dismaying trend toward the “militarization” of police.

Several aldermen from high-crime areas spoke out in support, saying some opponents just don’t understand the fearsome conditions their constituents live in.

“Come live in the 4th Ward so you can see what we’re going through,” said Alderman Dwinderlin Evans, who represents that North Side area. “Give us some hope towards some normality of living.”

Critics also said the city should wait until a study of the effectiveness of a six-month pilot program in Baltimore is completed. They also complained that Oldenburg didn’t consult in advance with police, the circuit attorney and the city’s criminal justice coordinating council.

Oldenburg said he talked with Krewson and public safety officials about his bill and made changes requested by the mayor. One bars the company from direct access to existing street cameras.

The revised bill also requires a written request from a police officer — Oldenburg says an email would suffice — before a company aircraft could zoom in on a crime scene after a shots-fired or 911 notification.

The mayor hasn’t said if she will sign or veto the measure if aldermen pass it next week.

Among those voting in favor was Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who is running to succeed Krewson in the March 2 primary. Another mayoral candidate, Alderman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, voted no. Mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones, the city treasurer, also has come out against the bill.