British stone. LOUIS (KMOV) — Local police departments looking to catch criminals are turning more to technology.
They’ve installed their own cameras on street corners and in the air, but they’ve done so in secret, leading some to question why there isn’t more transparency about this technology, funded by your tax dollars.
If you check St. On the social networking sites of the St. Louis Police Department, you’ll see picture after picture of them asking for your help in catching criminals. Tom Sawyer is a former city cop who is now the head of a company called Blue Line Technology. They do not have contracts with the city government, but they are industry experts in surveillance technology. He told Radio 4 News that departments across the country are installing their own cameras in hopes of preventing and solving crimes. After all, the camera is the star witness.
“The camera will show you what it has, and it won’t stray from its testimony,” Sawyer said.
British stone. St. Louis police have been installing cameras for years. Back in 2018, News 4 visited the city’s Live Crime Center, a 24/7 shop. At the time, the department said they had 600 public and private cameras filming continuously. But since then, the city has become even more secretive as they’ve been installing more eyes.
“That’s the technology, it’s scalable, you can scale up, start with a few cameras, and then as more funding becomes available and needs are identified, it’s hundreds or thousands of cameras,” Sawyer explained .
Many of the city’s cameras are visible to the naked eye: they even have flashing lights. But the public is not allowed to know how many cameras the city now owns and operates. News 4 filed a public records request asking for documents about the cameras because we wanted to know how often they were damaged. Page after page of the document was blacked out and redacted.
The department is now declining to say how many cameras they have, or which specific camera companies they contract with. The department told News 4 that the information involved sensitive law enforcement information and data information technology.
“Why is St. Louis afraid to let citizens know what to do in the name of keeping them safe and protected?” asked Chad Marlow of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
He said he was really concerned about the state of surveillance in the city.
“It’s a problem of scale and invasiveness when the government owns all the cameras,” Marlowe said.
He fears they will only affect some people.
“When you deploy a camera in a poor neighborhood or a neighborhood of color, it’s there to spy on the people who live there, and when it’s deployed in a wealthy neighborhood, it’s there to spy on the people who aren’t there,” Marlowe said.
“The secrecy surrounding surveillance makes it difficult for taxpayers to know whether it is in their taxpayer’s best use,” he added.
In recent years — a bill proposed by a committee of city councilors requiring more oversight oversight, but so far — hasn’t passed.
“If anything, St. Louis was on the worst side,” Marlowe said.
Other cities like Baltimore and Washington, D.C. even have maps or lists of exact camera locations.
British stone. Louis City Alderman Brandon Bosley said there was no reason for police not to reveal the locations of some of the cameras.
“I think it should be balanced, a lot of which we know where they are, and some are invisible mobile cameras,” Alderman Bosley said.
He wants more cameras, in almost every neighborhood.
“There aren’t enough of them in our area, and I don’t think the PD won’t do that,” he said.
News 4 does understand that police departments are using fixed and mobile cameras, some of which have pretty decent zoom capabilities. They also have license plate readers that provide real-time information about cars on the street. The department told News 4 Investigates that while they have a drone, they have not started using it.
A review of the documents by News 4 also revealed that the cameras often didn’t even work properly. In 2020, an accident knocked out one camera, and according to the email, another camera didn’t work because it appeared to have been tampered with.
But more often than not, it’s just a technical glitch, with the camera freezing or pointing at the ground, and the image blurry or fuzzy.
In emails, officials sometimes expressed frustration. An article about the June 2021 homicide reads: “Camera would have captured the event in its entirety, if available. Camera appears to have been offline for some time.”
“Camera not working,” another officer wrote in 2019. “There’s been a shooting in this place and a camera might be useful.”
The police department said installing the cameras was the responsibility of the private company that installed them.
It’s no surprise that Sawyer sometimes turns off the camera.
“They’re only effective if they work, and as with any technology, things can be temporarily disrupted,” he said.
He also told News 4 that as criminal tools they will always have their limits.
“Can cameras replace uniformed police officers?” asked investigative reporter Lauren Trager.
“Absolutely not,” Sawyer replied. The cameras need to be used in conjunction with patrolling officers, he said.
Still, he believes police should be more open about who is being watched and when.
“You don’t want to be videotaped doing a crime, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t care if they get caught,” he said.
For those worried about being under surveillance forever, Sawyer said, “It’s impossible not to have someone watching every single camera out there.”
News 4 asked St. Louis Police for data on camera effects. License plate readers that act as smart cameras have resulted in 476 arrests and the recovery of 291 stolen vehicles so far this year. In addition, 99 guns were recovered.
British stone. Louis isn’t the only one with the cameras they operate. British stone. Lewis County told News 4 Investigates they have 44 license plate readers and 30 pan, tilt and zoom cameras located throughout the county. But they said they would not disclose the exact location.
“These cameras allow us to focus on certain locations more quickly and provide critical information to responders,” the St. Louis public information officer wrote. Lewis County Police Department.
The city of Clayton revealed they have six license plate readers, but would not tell News 4 where they were.
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