A proposal to use so-called “spy planes” over St. Louis is met with fierce opposition from city residents and activists – but local politicians, despite privacy and civil liberties concerns, can still approve it when the bill comes to the vote this week.
First introduced by Alderman Tom Oldenburg in December 2020 Board Bill 200 would enable the St. Louis Police Department to use the surveillance technology provided by the company Persistent monitoring systems Capture aerial photography of the entire city for up to 18 hours a day with the declared aim of reducing crime.
The Bill passed committee on January 5th and January 22nd it was “perfected“- that is, there will be no further changes – through a close vote of 15-14 in the city’s Board of Aldermen. The narrow margin reflects the controversial nature of the program.
On Friday, February 5th, the bill will go to the final vote. If the board removes the legislation from the agenda, it has until the end of April to pass it. If not, the bill must be reintroduced in the next meeting.
After the close vote on the “perfecting” of the bill Alder Woman Megan E. Green, an outspoken critic of the program, expressed confidence that the city’s progressive wing could cast at least one yes vote and reject the bill. “There have been a number of directors,” Green said, “who have received quite a significant setback from their constituencies for voting on this bill.”
green believes More needs to be discussed about such a monumental undertaking for the future of the city. “If we’re ready to give away our residents’ privacy rights, this should be a pretty solid discussion for me with a lot of community engagement,” said Green The nation. “And that didn’t happen here.”
Critics of the program oppose the way PSS technology has been used in other communities – Baltimore, Md., And Compton, California – to target marginalized communities and violate the civil rights of city dwellers. Representative Cori Bush, who represents St. Louis and much of northern St. Louis County, said The nation in an email that the program, which she said was “actively harming our communities,” will have dire consequences for the city.
“We don’t want, we don’t need, and we can’t fly spy planes over St. Louis,” said Bush. “Our district cannot be a dump for technology that didn’t keep communities safe – too much is at stake.”
The Missouri ACLU is strongly against it the program, the legislative and policy director of the group Sara Baker told The nation, and the Opposition extends beyond St. Louis. The group’s Maryland arm filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department in April for using a similar program also run by PSS. The suit is set to be argued before the US appeals court for the fourth circuit in March. On Wednesday, February 3rd, the city of Baltimore completed his contract with PSS; The company says it will destroy all but 15 percent of the data collected from the aircraft, with the rest being used for ongoing investigations.
The residents also make their displeasure known. At a virtual hearing on the bill on January 5th around 25 residents attended the meeting to express their opposition. In the same week, nearly 500 St. Louis residents signed up A petition– At the time of publication, there were more than 680 signatures – against investments by the city in the planes. Oldenburg, who wrote the bill and is working with PSS to say goodbye, appears to be undeterred.
Attempts to reach Oldenburg were unsuccessful.
P.Concerns about the police and other authorities’ use of video footage captured by the aircraft in connection with other surveillance activities may be mitigated somewhat by the perfected version of the bill, which prevents mutual integration between the spy aircraft feeds and those of the department Real time crime center Cameras from happening in real time. However, the extent to which surveillance can quickly become a magnet increases the potential for violations of civil liberties due to the recordings and surveillance. And that poses problems for the city’s marginalized communities, Reed said.
“Surveillance is something that we saw as a weapon against black and brown communities,” Reed said. “It violates people’s privacy rights while doing nothing to prevent or, in some cases, resolve acts of violence in our neighborhood.”
According to McNutt, the sheer volume of information the spy planes generate makes searching too difficult, and he believes concerns about being persecuted for political or other activities are exaggerated. While the PSS CEO admitted he could track any car, “it’s just a matter of priorities.”
“It takes a lot of effort,” he said. “I have 400,000 cars in my pictures and people are worried that, oh my god, I’ll have to follow someone to the grocery store or to the clinic or something.”
Instead, deterrence is the goal of the technology, and the threat posed by PSS surveillance is enough to deter many people from violent crimes.
B.Billionaire-Sponsored Philanthropic Efforts Arnold Ventures sponsored the spy planes in Baltimore, and local news reports had linked the organization as a supporter of the St. Louis program. But on January 26th, Arnold Ventures announced “At this point, after 11 months of implementation, evaluation and preliminary research, we decided against further investments in the program.”
Prior to the foundation’s statement, McNutt had said that “there are two or three other people we will ask if the deal fails”.
St. Louis has consumed Over the past three years, nearly $ 4 million has been spent on surveillance technology – an investment that wasn’t combined with a working surveillance mechanism that would determine whether the technology is being used properly or who the program is targeting Kayla Reed, Managing director of the lobby group Action St. Louis. Reed cited the lack of control over the proposed program as part of a general lack of accountability in the department – an ongoing confidence in what isn’t working.
“What it will do, in turn, is increase the likelihood that people, especially blacks and the poor in this city, will be criminalized,” Reed said.
Decades of policing as the only way to solve the crime problem has created a situation where combat programs like the PSS surveillance planes cause problems for local activists. John Chasnoff, Coalition Against Police Crime Cochair, tells The nation. The city’s residents are not as informed about the program as he would like, and they are desperate for the killings to end.
“To be honest, the public is divided,” said Chasnoff. “When we go out on the streets, advertise, and talk to people about it, they’re pretty concerned – but we’re a small organization, and the urge to arrest, jail and imprison these issues has been going on for decades.”
For Reed, reliance on more police and surveillance technology shows what is wrong with the city’s approach to public safety. Last year marked a surge in murders and violent crimes in St. Louis, but leaders who rely on the police to solve the problem are only doing what has already failed, she said The nation.
“City police officers, and this police department in general, have been violating human rights for decades,” Reed said. “Adding something to a broken system only adds to the existing problems.”
Critics of the PSS program readily acknowledge that St. Louis has a problem with violent crime and that residents are not necessarily opposed to a more robust police response to criminal behavior. However, this differs from a confirmation of the powers required by Oldenburg and PSS.
S.t. Louis was near the center of a national movement against police violence That broke out after a teenager named Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson in 2014 – and community members have long been opposed to police treatment of residents of the black city. The town recording Dealing with riots adds another wrinkle to the way the program is received by activists and local leaders.
“I would hesitate on any repetition because I think that just the abuse of coming against protesters had too many historical bases in our community,” said Green.
Bush who was herself one of the activists on the streets in 2014, noted that the spy planes are being used by a police agency that is incredibly hostile to activists and marginalized communities in the city, a city that is already detaining protesters without warrant through a system I believe is unconstitutional. ”
Regardless of the future of the PSS plan for spy planes over the St. Louis skies – whether or not the bill passes on February 5 – the program’s threat to privacy and civil liberties is real and will continue to exist. McNutt’s promise that the amount of data makes searching too time consuming to be effective is not enough to solve the real problems associated with keeping an ever-watchful eye in the sky that keeps the city up to 18 hours a day records.
For St. Louis, the need to address the city’s crime problem could lead to solutions with unintended consequences. Leaders like Bush advocate a different route: using funding to address the root causes of the cycles of violence. The city will decide on Friday whether to continue the earlier route.