Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis County Police Say Safety, Not Censorship, Led to Call to Close Ferguson Airspace

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis County Police Say Safety, Not Censorship, Led to Call to Close Ferguson Airspace

Article excerpt

CLAYTON * St. Louis County police released audiotapes Wednesday they say bolster their contention that restrictions on flights over Ferguson protests for 11 days in August were about safety and not news censorship.

The Associated Press reported Monday that tapes of discussions between police and the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that a Temporary Flight Restriction was sought to keep out news helicopters.

Capt. Kurt Frisz, who was scene commander in Ferguson at the time, said he realized the conversations were subject to that interpretation, but he insisted that it was really about safety in the face of potential gunfire and laser interference.

A complication, he said, was that his concerns were relayed to Ed Kunz of the FAA in Kansas City through a third person, police dispatching supervisor Chris Trittler.

Police said they received a 911 call at 11:10 p.m. Aug. 10 reporting that protesters were aiming guns at police helicopters. Officials also provided a report from a police pilot of a potentially blinding laser strike, and three audio clips of phone conversations between Frisz and Trittler, and between Trittler and Kunz.

Frisz said he wished he would have had time to talk directly to Kunz and avoid Trittler's speculation that the move was done to keep the news media out.

In the recordings, Kunz and Trittler discuss Frisz's request for an 8,000-foot flight minimum that Kunz calls a "little higher than normal." Concerned about possible impact on operations at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Kunz asks, "So he's OK with commercial aircraft transiting area if they need to, so this is a restriction to keep the media out, is that correct?"

Trittler replies, "He didn't state that, but that would be my guess." He adds, "We're doing extra patrols in a three-mile radius and our helicopter is doing extra patrols. I really don't know, but if I had to guess, I would guess that it would be for the news more than anything else, but that would just be speculation on my part."

Frisz, himself a pilot, cited serious safety threats Wednesday, saying, "People shooting at a helicopter are not going to know the difference between a media helicopter and a police helicopter. …

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