ST. LOUIS ( -- An aircraft-based surveillance program that targets criminal activity is exploring St. Louis as a potential test market. However, community support and privacy concerns could be big hurdles.

Ross McNutt, the president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, said multiple St. Louis residents have reached out to the company to consider bringing its technology to the city.

"Our goal is to help cities reduce major crime rates by twenty to thirty percent in the first year by solving otherwise unsolvable crime, by removing repeat offenders earlier in their career, but more importantly, deterring people from committing crime in the first place because they stand a much better chance of getting caught," said McNutt.

McNutt explained the company uses an aircraft to take images, similar to satellite pictures you would see on Google Earth, and updates them every second. Working with police after a 911 call, analysts can go back to the scene of a crime and track the people and cars that came and went.

"That's not saying this person did it. That person was at the scene of the crime. They may be a witness. They may be a suspect," he said.

McNutt said the image is intentionally low quality to protect the privacy of other citizens. Investigators can then find ground level cameras at a gas station or nearby business along the person's route to identify them.

"In one case we tracked a guy for two and a half hours, past 75 ground cameras. We got him running 21 stop lights," said McNutt.

Still, privacy is a concern for many people, including for City of St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards.

"I'm always concerned about privacy and whether the tool would go too far," said Edwards.

He says another sticking point is FAA regulations.

Edwards says he has not been in contact with the company, but he is open to police tools like their surveillance product.

"If one believes they have a product they believe they would be of good assistance to the St. Louis Police Department, certainly I'm on board to listen," said Edwards.

McNutt says the surveillance company hopes to come to St. Louis in July for briefings and focus groups. First, he says, the community would have to get on board. Then, they would go to city leaders and the police department for approval.

McNutt says the operating cost for the program, not considering company profits, is $1.5 million a year. He says a donor out of Houston, TX is willing to cover the cost for up to three years.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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