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St. Louis Mayor Krewson And Aldermen Eye Surveillance Policies

Surveillance camera alert on South Broadway
Paul Sableman | Flickr

St. Louis aldermen will try again this year to develop policies that control the use of surveillance technology in the city. 

A committee could vote this week on a measure sponsored by Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, that requires the director of public safety to draft those policies, which the Board of Aldermen would then approve or reject. Any city agency that wanted to use tools like security cameras or license plate readers would have to submit a plan that fit those guidelines.

There is general agreement that the city needs to regulate the use of those tools. The debate has taken on more urgency in the past few weeks with the disclosure that the city has been considering a proposal for aerial surveillance.

But Mayor Lyda Krewson and the board are at odds over who should develop that policy.

Earlier this year, aldermen ordered Krewson’s administration to put together a report that outlined the types of surveillance technology the city used. That report, which was supposed to be completed by Sept. 16, is overdue.

Robert Gaskill-Clemons, the city’s chief technology officer, said the administration took the request a step further.

“We’ve already started crafting a new privacy policy, which would go out in the form of an executive order,” he said. “It’s in its first draft right now. I’m finalizing feedback now from various other operating departments."

The administration’s decision to move forward on its own bothered Sara Baker, the policy director of the ACLU of Missouri, which supports Collins-Muhammad’s bill.

“We are not asking the mayor’s office to unilaterally come out with a surveillance technology policy. We think that entirely circumvents the democratic process that is laid out in this bill,” she said.

Gaskill-Clemons said he had some “serious concerns when it comes to potentially unintended consequences given the way that the current bill is crafted,” including overly vague language that could make it difficult for the city to adopt new technologies.

Aldermen delayed a vote last week after more than 90 minutes of debate in order to work with the mayor’s office.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.