Race, Crime and Surveillance: Why St. Louis’ Real Time Crime Center protects businesses before people

An 18-month-long joint investigation by the St. Louis American and Type Investigations shows, for the first time, what Edwards knows to be true: the city’s cameras are not located in the neighborhoods that have the most profound problems with violent crime, specifically homicides. We created the first publicly available map of camera locations listed by the police and streets departments in public audits, which, overlaid with census race and income data, shows that there are significantly more cameras in affluent, majority-white areas than there are in majority-black, impoverished parts of the city. The map also shows that, although the police department has touted the center as targeting the city’s violent crimes, North St. Louis, where most murders were concentrated in 2018, is, essentially, a camera desert. Our investigation found that the city’s reliance on private entities and taxing districts to buy cameras that feed into the RTCC has contributed to the inequity — effectively rendering the RTCC’s surveillance program a taxpayer-funded security monitoring service for parts of the city that can afford cameras.

The police department said it could not provide details on the types of crimes that the center helped to prosecute, or whether or not the number of arrests for violent crime have increased in the center’s four years of operation.

Some researchers have found that surveillance cameras are more effective at combating property offenses than violent crime. Opponents, including the ACLU, believe that cameras raise concerns about the targeting or over-policing people of color. They believe the enormous expense of the cameras take up resources that could be better used to prevent crimes.

The question remains whether the center is actually helping to decrease St. Louis’ homicide rate — which is among the highest in the country.

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