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‘Eye in the sky’ surveillance gets support from pastor, foes of crime

JENNINGS – St. Louisans concerned about rampant gun violence – including two who have lost children to that violence – gathered at a nearby church last week to passionately argue for a proposed and controversial aerial crime-fighting tool. 

The press conference took place on the steps of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, 8645 Goodfellow Blvd. near McLauren Avenue. 

“I came here to let everybody know that this is the best news in the world – that we could have something in St. Louis to solve murders,” said Bria Dorsey, whose son RJ Dorsey’s death by shooting about three months ago remains unsolved. 

That “something” that Dorsey and others believe could solve and prevent killings is a Google Earth-like eyewitness in the sky called the Community Support Program. 

It would deploy piloted airplanes that patrol, capture and render recorded activity to law enforcement when violent incidents happen. 

The technology would be used to survey what St. Louis officials choose, mostly shootings. 

“We want to make sure that nobody else has to deal with the fact their case is going to be unsolved, has no leads, no witnesses and no suspects,” said Cedric Redmon, a youth ambassador and former candidate for alderman in the 6th Ward. 

Redmon also shot down criticisms that the “eye in the sky” would be an invasion of privacy and could be misused.  

“I would never put my name on something that surveys the black community or adds to the mass incarceration of impoverished people,” he said explaining, “This does not affect your privacy – it is only to be used where there was a murder to give a live image of how the crime scene played out.”

The three planes would fly through St. Louis skies for eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. This would be for three years. 

The “eye in the sky” Community Support Program would also be also free. It’s funded through the Arnold Ventures foundation and includes the three airplanes, operations and any other logistical support. 

“There is no excuse and no reason for anyone who is in charge and in authority to turn down the wonderful blessing that this is for our city,” said the Rev. Rodrick K. Burton, pastor of New Northside, who called the press conference. 

“Our unified call is that our civic leaders would invite, adopt and just try this program so there can be less mothers and fathers and children dealing with the pain of violence in St. Louis,” he added. 

Some aldermen support the program. A measure by 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad would require the such a program to have policies drafted by the public safety director. Aldermen would then vote on it. 

“I’m all for anything that will help in the right way,” said 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark-Hubbard, who sits on the aldermanic public safety committee, which recently had the program pitched to it. 

Mayor Lyda Krewson, who is in disagreement with the board over who should develop the privacy policy, is drafting one that would be an executive order. The autonomous move has angered some. 

“Hats off to all of the people that are in concert to have this new technology,” said William Griffin, also a pastor, whose daughter, Jackie Griffin, died after being shot multiple times on Sept. 22.

“It’s a painful hurt that I didn’t know existed – to bury my baby,” Griffin expressed. 

Redmon said the technology wouldn’t just solve murders, it could also spotlight questionable police activity. 

“This company is acting as an independent witness once crimes happen in our city,” Redmon said. “That way, the prosecutors and defense attorneys both have access to this data.

“It’s not just meant to convict people, but it’s meant to exonerate people as well.” 

Skylar Robinson, a teenager, said she was at the press conference to take a stand for youths who have been shot and killed this year. 

It saddens her, she said, that the year isn’t over yet, so many youths have been killed. 

“We have to do something about this,” she said. “This is getting crazy.” 

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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