Police to acquire license plate reader cameras
By Lisa Brody
Bloomfield Township trustees unanimously approved the purchase and implementation of nine Flock automated license plate readers following a detailed presentation by police chief James Gallagher, who pointed out neighboring departments are currently utilizing the readers and it will assist in crime solving, at their meeting on Monday, July 11.
Gallagher, in a memo to trustees as part of the presentation, said, “It is the policy of the Bloomfield Township Police Department to utilize Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) technology to capture and store digital license plate data and images, while recognizing the established privacy rights of the public. All data and image gathered by the ALPRs are for the official Department use only.”
“They are the new way to solve crime,” he said of the license plate readers, which he stated are utilized by a majority of Oakland County law enforcement agencies. Flock is the company that would provide them to the township, and is the same company as Troy, Southfield, West Bloomfield, Auburn Hills and Oakland County Sheriff use. He said the Birmingham Police Department has approved the company to provide automated license plate readers to them.
He explained that the purpose of acquiring the license plate readers is to “convert data associated with vehicle license plates and descriptions for official law enforcement purposes, including identifying stolen or wanted vehicles, stolen license plates and/or missing persons. It may also gather information related to active warrants, homeland security, electronic surveillance, suspect interdiction, and stolen property recovery… If a vehicle does not stop, we can alert another jurisdiction the vehicle has entered their jurisdiction. It will decrease police pursuits.”
He noted the use of license plate readers aided in the recent Lansing kidnapping/Amber alert case.
“Crime is on the rise, especially property crime. About 70 percent of crimes involve a vehicle, and that is very true in the township,” Gallagher said. “It's a vehicle fingerprint. It captures the license plate and anything else in the rear of the vehicle. It does not identify faces or people. There is no facial recognition, and it would not be used for traffic enforcement – only for fighting crime or stopping crime.”
Gallagher said the system has met with ACLU standards and approvals, and is not a “Big Brother” kind of program.
He explained that with the Flock system, data is not stored beyond 30 days. The system automatically deletes information every 30 days. The data is owned by the township and not Flock, and cannot be shared with any other entity. He said it provides real time crime alerts to a police agency, and crime rates fall as crimes are cleared.
“If a vehicle is identified, the officer still has to follow all laws, and has to properly identify the driver as the criminal being sought,” Gallagher explained.
Further, he said, not every person in the department would have access to the readers. “Only those in the investigative unit, dispatch and command staff,” he said.
The Flock system has a transparency portal that can provide the community with details such as how often there are hits on the system, how often the cameras are utilized, and how often crime is solved.
While Flock conducts a random audit once a year, Bloomfield Township said they will do a random audit twice a year.
“We are requesting nine cameras to start, which we can absorb currently in our budget with vacancies,” said Gallagher. Each camera covers approximately two lanes of traffic on one direction.
Flock recommended 31 cameras for the township, but Gallagher said they would prefer to build on the nine, noting adjacent communities will share data. The cost to the department would be $44,000.
“What concerns me is today we don't have facial recognition, and we don't save it past 30 days, but when the technology is there and the infrastructure is there…. it's a slippery slope. Maybe it's the defense attorney in me,” commented trustee Stephanie Fakih.
“If we feel it's unethical, or we're not keen on the expansion, we can say take back your equipment,” Gallagher responded.
“The fact that all the departments around us are using this, have increased their number of cameras, maybe we should have had these already,” said trustee Val Murray.
Trustees approved the use of the automated license plate readers, 6-0, with trustee Michael Schostak absent. Gallagher said they should be installed in four to six months.