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Limits Placed on St. Louis, Mo., Aerial Surveillance Proposal

A proposal that would allow a privately funded company to provide the city with aerial surveillance services was adjusted at the request of Mayor Lyda Krewson, signalling a possible willingness to sign the bill.

by Mark Schlinkmann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch / January 19, 2021
Shutterstock/Paul Brady Photography

(TNS) — The sponsor of an aerial surveillance proposal at the Board of Aldermen says he's making changes at Mayor Lyda Krewson's request and hopes that indicates she'll sign his bill if it is passed.

Alderman Tom Oldenburg, D-16th Ward, said Monday that the mayor is adamant that the Ohio company flying the video-taking aircraft up to 18 hours daily wouldn't get direct access to existing street cameras owned by the city and neighborhood groups.

Oldenburg said Krewson also wanted a contract shorter than the three-year length called for in his bill. "We agreed to 18 months, with a city option for another 18 months," he said.

He added that the mayor wants stronger wording requiring that the system be paid for entirely by private donors, something he says the bill already does.

"It's a strong signal she's weighing in," Oldenburg said of his meeting last week with the mayor.

Oldenburg said she told him she wouldn't sign his bill "unless they're in there," referring to the proposed amendments. However, he said she stopped short of committing to sign the measure even if they're added and passed.

Krewson's spokesman, Jacob Long, confirmed that the mayor and aides met with Oldenburg about "our reservations," including the need for more limits on the company, Persistent Surveillance Systems.

Long also said she made no commitments to signing anything.

"The administration doesn't support PSS having a direct link to tap into real-time crime data (from cameras) that the police department uses," Long said. He said he didn't have details on what else was discussed.

Oldenburg last month introduced the bill directing Krewson or her successor as mayor to contract with the company to help the city stem a surge of violent crime.

He said he did so to force the issue after no contract was worked out after a nonbinding resolution passed by aldermen last summer urging the administration to negotiate a trial deal with the firm.

Krewson's staff previously said the mayor had concerns about privacy issues and the effectiveness of the company's technology, which was tried out in Baltimore for six months last year. Work is underway on a report on the Baltimore pilot project.

Oldenburg said if Krewson voluntarily agrees to contract with the company, that would make moot her attorney's position that aldermen don't have legal authority to require that the contract be signed.

Meanwhile, two candidates running to succeed Krewson as mayor — City Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderman Cara Spencer — are opposing the spy plane proposal.

"We don't need to be bringing tools of war of any kind to north St. Louis to further traumatize our children," Jones said in an online debate Sunday.

Spencer, D-20th Ward, said in the debate that the proposal "should cause us all great concern" — in part because of a lack of data proving the planes' effectiveness cutting crime.

The two also cited civil liberties concerns and said they supported a separate pending bill to regulate the city's existing surveillance cameras and any new ones in the future.

Another mayoral candidate, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, voted last summer for the aldermanic resolution but has yet to take a position on Oldenburg's bill.

Reed spokeswoman Mary Goodman said Monday that "he's open to anything that would help get shooters off the streets" but wants to review Oldenburg's revised measure.

A fourth mayoral candidate, utility executive Andrew Jones, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

©2021 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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