Community Control Over Police Surveillance in St. Louis
What Can You Do?
Call your Alderperson!
Tell them you Oppose Spy Planes and Support Community Control Over Police Surveillance, You should get to decide if and how surveillance is used in your community.
Why do we need a bill that addresses police surveillance?
Police departments around the country buy surveillance equipment through private-public partnerships and federal grants with little oversight. Nationally, over $1 billion of these grants are funneled to municipalities across the country, bypassing local budget processes and local elected officials.
In St. Louis, we have more than 1100 cameras watching its residents 24/7. The city has deployed a system of microphones used to listen for gunshots. It’s also deploying “Stingray” devices, which allow the police to track people’s locations using their cell phones and potentially intercept the communications of thousands of mobile phone users at a time.
In the past three years, St. Louis has spent near 4 million dollars on surveillance technology. In March 2018, the police began using devices costing over $100,000 each, that combine multiple surveillance cameras, a noise detector, and a license plate scanner into a single, mobile, solar-powered surveillance system.
Many of these systems were funded through grants and “public-private partnerships,” meaning that they could be acquired without using city funds and without the knowledge of the Board of Aldermen.
Following numerous in-depth examinations of police data, the ACLU and our partner organizations have discovered that, when mass surveillance systems are deployed by local police, they are frequently used to target communities of color. This disparate impact is all the more reason to provide oversight so that technologies are used appropriately
What does Community Control Over Police Surveillance do?
This proposal would require city entities to come up with a plan for how they will use surveillance technology, commit that plan to paper, hold public meetings to hear community concerns, and submit the plan to the Board of Alderman for approval. The plan submitted must include what technologies are being sought, how they will be used, if their use could adversely impact marginalized groups and policies regarding data storage and security. A “city entity” includes any agency, department, bureau, division, board, commission, committee, or unit of the City of St. Louis or any governmental unit operating within the City of St. Louis.
The basic process is as follows:
- The entity wants to use surveillance technology so decides to start the approval process. The entity submits the plan to the Board of Aldermen.
- Public hearing occurs, Board of Aldermen approves, rejects, or revises plan.
- The entity must issue an annual report with an assessment of benefits, the cost to civil liberties, and financial impact on the city.
- Board of Aldermen decides to reauthorize or not.
- If something changes mid-year and the entity wishes to add technologies to their existing plan, they need to ask approval from the Board of Aldermen. This does not apply to adding more cameras to the Real-Time Crime Center.
Will this bill prevent the city from using surveillance technology?
No. This bill creates a process for approving or denying the use of surveillance technology that is transparent and open to public input. It seeks to build public trust by seeking community consent rather than allowing the use of surveillance technology to bloom without oversight. By creating transparency, we can protect civil liberties and promote public safety.
Where else is this type of measure under consideration?
More than 15 other cities around the country including cities like Nashville, Tennessee and Yellow Springs, Ohio have stood up and passed legislation to ensure that a clear process is put in place to approve any use of surveillance technology, measure the effectiveness of that technology, and ensure it is free from racial bias.