by Sam Levin
"There will be drones."
So says St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in a tweet yesterday on the controversial airplane surveillance technology.
Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Slay, tells Daily RFT today that the mayor is referring to the federal government's use of drones and says that St. Louis may at some point consider the tool, but has no immediate plans.
"Do these solutions make sense?" she says, "And if it does, it's worth exploring as a crime-fighting tool."
Crane points us to a short comment Slay made in a Post-Dispatch article published over the weekend, in which the mayor says, "We're proceeding in a very cautious way. First we must look at the technology and if we decide to use the technology, to what extent it will be used."
That article explores Police Chief Sam Dotson's "vision of modern policing," which apparently would include a drone circling Busch Stadium to watch for terrorists or silently pursuing a criminal who thought a police chase had already ended.
Dotson reportedly wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration as a preliminary step toward seeking approval for unmanned and unarmed flight, the P-D reports. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce also apparently wrote to the FAA expressing her "enthusiastic support." We've reached out to both the police department and circuit attorney's office today and will update if we get more details.
In the meantime, here's Slay's tweet on the topic from last night.
There will be drones. Let's start figuring out where and why. #fgs— MayorSlay.com (@MayorSlay) June 24, 2013
Crane tells us that this comment references FBI use of drones in the United States.
Last week, it was reported that the FBI received aviation clearance for at least four domestic drone surveillance operations.
"They're here whether we like them or not," Crane says. "So if they're going to be here, is there a way we can use them as a crime-fighting tool?"
It's something the city will keep an eye on, she says.
Dotson tells the P-D that this is about public safety and that the drones would not have capabilities beyond helicopters and would not do anything that existing laws don't already protect. The paper says that dozens of police agencies around the country have submitted FAA applications.
Still, even the mention of drones as a potential tool for St. Louis has already sparked privacy concerns from groups that argue the technology is a significant expansion of government surveillance and can lead to Fourth Amendment violations.
If you're curious, here is footage of a drone in action, from Daily RFT's coverage of the University of Missouri's plans to obtain a drone for its journalism school: