Ohio Communities Deploy Automated License Plate Readers

(TNS) – A surveillance system used in Cuyahoga County, other parts of Ohio and the United States has now been deployed in two communities in northern Summit County.

Stationary automatic license plate reader technology systems have recently been installed in Macedonia and Northfield Village. Managed by Atlanta-based Flock Safety, the ALPR system allows police to identify stolen vehicles and those belonging to people wanted on felony arrest warrants.

But the cloud-based database of images captured by the cameras can also be searched for vehicles with specific license plate numbers in multiple communities, and it can help with missing persons cases and investigations. AMBER alert.


The technology has already been used in about two dozen other communities in northern Ohio, mostly in Cuyahoga County.

Similar car-mounted units have been in common use for years, but the Flock system offers cloud-based and artificial intelligence-enhanced capabilities combined with a multi-jurisdictional network.

Macedonian Police Chief Jon Golden recently explained the technology to residents of the city. He said the main function of the system is to capture images of license plate numbers, which are then automatically compared to those in the National Crime Information Center’s database. Response times to queries are one minute and officers in their patrol cars can access the information.

“If the plate comes back as stolen or if the registered owner has a felony arrest warrant, the information is returned to the local jurisdiction via their MDTs. [mobile data terminals, aka computers in cars] and where the image was captured, ”Golden said. “Usually when a person or a group of individuals enter our city with a stolen vehicle, they are here to commit crimes. With the camera system, as soon as they pass a camera, we are notified and the officers move towards that area. Usually the vehicle is found and the subjects leave the area before they can commit crimes. “

But the system is not limited to the national database. Police can also search the system’s image database for general descriptions of vehicles. It will return images that match the search parameters, along with the dates, times, and locations where the images were taken.

He pointed out that the system is not a traffic control camera like in Walton Hills.

Golden said the new investigative tool can help police identify vehicles suspected of committing crimes for which only a general description is available.

“This system allows us to search the database by color, brand, model, etc. Golden said. “Now we can search, and the system will list all the vehicles that meet the parameters entered.”

Images are saved for 30 days.

Police can also search the database for images taken by Flock cameras in other communities.

MOST HERD CAMERAS IN CUYAHOGA COUNTY

Locally, about “two dozen” of police departments in the Cleveland area – mostly in Cuyahoga County – use the Flock system, according to company spokeswoman Holly Beilin.

Besides Northfield Village and Macedonia, she declined to list other communities linked to the network or considering connecting.

“We don’t name clients unless they have identified themselves publicly,” she said.

Akron and suburban towns including Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Tallmadge and Twinsburg, as well as the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said they did not plan to install the cameras. Stow Police said Flock Systems demonstrated to the department, but the city made no commitment to the company.

While the Aurora Police Department in Portage County also has no plans to install the cameras, Aurora Police Chief Brian Byard said his department may interview other departments, such as Flock, Bainbridge and Solon users, to obtain information through mutual aid agreements.

The Golden leader in Macedonia said any research on behalf of outside departments should be carried out by departments that host Flock cameras.

In July, the mentor police told local media that their 15 cameras had helped police make 33 arrests and locate 13 stolen vehicles and one person with dementia in 2.5 months.

In addition to Mentor, reports show that the cameras have also been installed in Dayton, Hunting Valley, Independence, Orange and Willoughby.

While Golden declined to say where the town’s six cameras are located, Northfield Police Lt. Brian Zajak said the department had installed two at the village’s north and south borders on Route 8.

The two chiefs said the department can access cameras connected to the Flock system in communities across the region. Zajak said the total number of cameras available is 187 in a dozen other cities, accessible at higher levels of the department.

“Some have more than 30, 40 cameras in their communities,” he said.

The two Summit County chiefs say it’s too early for officers on patrol to have been able to use the system to solve crimes.

At Northfield, “they only got a chance to use it last week in their cars,” Zajak said Tuesday.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Flock Safety claims that its patented and registered trademark “Vehicle Fingerprint” technology allows users to search by “vehicle make, color, type, license plate, license plate condition, missing plate, cover plate, number plate in paper and unique vehicle details like roof racks, bumper stickers, and more. “

The system’s 5-megapixel cameras are leased for around $ 2,500 per year, and the company says it can capture images of license plates from vehicles at up to 100 mph, day and night, up to 75 feet away. distance. Still images cannot be used for speed app and the system does not use facial recognition technology.

The cloud-based system can be accessed through desktop or mobile platforms.

The company says data will never be shared without authorization, sold to third parties, or used for unpaid fines, unauthorized viewing outside of a legitimate crime-related event or kept in a library.

The images are fully encrypted and stored in the cloud. All footage is deleted after 30 days on an ongoing basis, unless a governing body or democratically elected official legislates a different retention period.

CONFIDENTIALITY ISSUES

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has in the past expressed concerns about the right to privacy with respect to such technology.

“When can automated license plate readers be used and when can they not? Asked Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the Ohio ACLU. “This is something we would like to see established.”

He said the expectation of a right to privacy is drastically reduced when in public.

“If your neighbors can see you doing it, why can’t the police see you? ” he said.

However, Daniels noted that technological advancements raise new questions.

“The police didn’t have the resources to watch someone 24/7. Right now they have the technology to do this to a lot of people all the time,” he said. he declared.

Daniels said the “lack of control” over the technology, as well as other systems, has raised concerns about the availability of information to law enforcement from companies and private entities such as as homeowners associations who are also eligible to contract with Flock Systems.

“The courts are slowly catching up with this type of technology as a problem,” he said. “Essentially, the question is, what kind of privacy rights do you have in public?

Local police say they rely on existing policies that reserve investigative resources for official use.

In Macedonia, Golden said unauthorized use of the Flock system amounts to misuse of the Law Enforcement Automated Data System, a statewide repository of data shared by law enforcement agencies. . The LEADS database includes driving records, vehicle ownership, stolen property, missing persons, warrants and parole status of individuals, as well as images of driver’s licenses, individual criminal history and messages from law enforcement agencies.

While there is no codified sanction for the misuse of automated license plate reading systems, misuse of the LEADS system is a crime.

Zajak said law enforcement already has access via warrants to other even more intrusive technologies, such as cellphone recordings, which can track a person’s whereabouts across the country – and in real time.

He noted that Flock Systems is “very firm” on its policy of retaining images for 30 days. The retention period of images has been an issue among those concerned with privacy rights.

“After those 30 days it goes away … if you have no reason to research this type of vehicle in 30 days, why would you need it 45 days or even a year later?” he said.

ABOUT HERD SAFETY

Founded in 2017 by Georgia Institute of Technology graduates Garrett Langley and Matt Feury, Flock Safety claims its proprietary devices and cloud-based software reduce crime by more than 70%. The company says it has installed systems in more than 1,200 cities and serves more than 700 law enforcement agencies, in addition to private entities such as homeowners associations and businesses.

The company says its goal is to reduce crime in the United States by 25% over the next three years.

In July, the company announced that it had received $ 150 million in new investments, for a total of $ 230 million since its inception.

“Four years ago, we launched Flock Safety with a simple mission, eliminate crime,” the company said in announcing the funding. “We knew that neighborhoods and businesses would have to work with law enforcement and city leaders if we were to really solve this problem.

“We also launched our first product, the Flock Safety Falcon Camera, which combines license plate recognition and machine learning to provide the objective leads law enforcement needs to solve crime. And the technology works, without bias, in all demographics of society.

© 2021 www.beaconjournal.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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