These laws make police get public buy-in on surveillance tools

A surveillance camera caught Kendra Tatum's attention.

Mounted on a pole in a St. Louis commercial district, the camera could have a line of sight into MoKaBe's, a coffee shop where local activists like to get together.

An activist, Tatum finds herself keeping track of devices that police could use to keep track of her. The city's police department maintains a hub called the Real Time Crime Center that combines data from surveillance cameras, automated license plate readers and microphones that listen for gunshots to help police respond to events in real time. But it could also use this technology to track groups that plan protests against the police, Tatum worries.

"It's hard to draw the line with not wanting to be paranoid, but also being wise and conscious about the work I do," Tatum said.

Some clarity might be on its way. Cities around the country have passed laws that would create a public process for deciding how police can purchase and use surveillance technology. Police departments in 13 jurisdictions including Seattle, Oakland, Santa Clara County, Nashville and Cambridge have seen similar laws pass. More states and cities, including St. Louis, are weighing whether to follow suit.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment on the pending bill and didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on concerns it could use surveillance tools against activists. The department confirmed it operates a surveillance camera at the intersection Tatum named.