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Mayor’s order on St. Louis police surveillance tools puts her at odds with aldermen

Security cameras in Gravois Park on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. SMS Novel’s, religious filmmaking company based in Washington D.C., plans to launch a drone surveillance operation in Gravois Park later in January. Earlier this week, the city issued a cease-and-desist order and told the company it would need to obtain permits and obtain $1 million in liability insurance.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
A new executive order from Mayor Tishaura Jones requires the police department to provide more information about the surveillance tools it uses, including cameras like the ones pictured here in Gravois Park on Jan. 11.

A new executive order from Mayor Tishaura Jones governing the use of police surveillance technology in St. Louis has put her at odds with the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Jones said she was forced to take action because concerns about surveillance have held up passage of bills reauthorizing the use of red-light and speed cameras in the city. Since they were introduced in September, she said, four people have died and more than 100 have been injured in traffic crashes.

“We cannot sustain any more injuries or deaths in our streets. We must take immediate and urgent action now,” Jones said.

The order issued Friday requires the police department to provide a detailed report on the types of surveillance tools it uses and information about spending on the technology. The department must also publish policies governing the tools on its website and cannot sell the data collected to outside parties.

“I am hopeful that by signing this executive order, the St. Louis community can see that their concern and their advocacy for increased transparency have been heard, received and acted upon,” Jones said.

But aldermen say the mayor’s order does not actually provide oversight.

“An executive order makes it seem like real progress is being made, when in fact none is being made,” said board President Megan Green. “It simply requests compliance from departments and reiterates preexisting regulations related to police conduct that are already established under federal law and our city must already abide by.”

Green and other aldermen are backing legislation that would give the board the power to approve or deny any surveillance technology after public hearings – a bill they noted Jones had supported in the past.

“Over the past few weeks, it’s been a little difficult to get answers from the mayor on what changes we need to make,” said 14th Ward Alderman Rasheen Aldridge, who is sponsoring the measure.

Jones said that kind of oversight presented “operational challenges” but did not provide specifics.

“I’m not going to walk you through them, because we don’t have all day,” she said. “A lot of times you support legislation and then when you get in office, sometimes that legislation isn’t implementable.”

In a follow-up email, a spokesman for Jones said a primary concern was language in state law forbidding local officials to interfere in police investigations.

“As currently written and as proposed to be updated, several provisions of BB 185 appear designed to, even if inadvertently, have the impact of curtailing or obstructing police investigation work, including by slowing it down by subjecting it to uncertain approval processes by a inherently political entity, and by forcing breaches of contracts for surveillance technology currently in use,” said the spokesman, Connor Kerrigan.

The measure is set for a committee hearing Thursday.

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