(TNS) — League City police recently completed the latest installment phase of a camera system the department says will make it easier to identify criminals.
The 42 flock cameras placed throughout the city are designed to captures images of vehicle license plates as they pass by.
The department initially installed nine cameras in designated locations throughout local jurisdiction roadways in late 2022 following council approval to purchase the cameras. After a lengthy process to receive authorization from the state, the department installed the remaining 33 at major intersections, according to League City Police Captain Harold Lee.
The cameras — using technology developed by Flock Safety, a company that specializes in security cameras systems for both law enforcement and private entities — are strategically placed to zoom in on the license plate on the back of the vehicle as it drives away.
Cameras then scan license place information into a state and national data base, and officers receive a notification from a computer in their patrol vehicles.
“If that license plate is associated with a stolen vehicle, or stolen license plate, or if it’s affiliated with a wanted fugitive, the system will notify all our officers, they will report to the area and try to make a stop,” said Lee.
The cameras are programmed to the keep the information on file for 30 days before it is automatically deleted.
Before making its proposal to council, the department had experienced first-hand the benefits of the system while investigating a murder case.
Using flock cameras borrowed from another agency, League City police were able to determine that a suspect had been following the victim before the murder occurred.
“That was the genesis for us to pursue the use of the cameras because we had used them from other jurisdictions and saw how beneficial they were,” Lee said.
The cameras, purchased using a grant through the Texas Motor Vehicle Crime Prevention Authority, will cost $105,000 per year to operate.
According to Lee, most of the public feedback has been positive, but a few have expressed a fear that the technology could be misused.
The use by law enforcement of advanced surveillance technologies like flock cameras have the potential to infringe on citizens’ rights to privacy, said Savannah Kumar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
Flock cameras, like drones, increase government entities’ ability to track the movement of citizens in their daily lives, said Kumar.
“It means that our communities are under constant scrutiny while we are carrying out ordinary activities,” she said.
Activities like driving to work, taking kids to school, going to doctor appointments, religious services, or running errands, Kumar said, will now be monitored.
“Where we go and where we travel can say a lot about us and who we are, and so the expansion of surveillance systems provides intimate information about us to the government,” she said.
While he understands public concern for privacy, Lee said, the cameras will not be monitoring the everyday activities of civilians. Most of the images captured by the cameras, he noted, are not associated with criminal activity, and simply disappear from the data base.
“In that case all the cameras do is snap a picture, stores for 30 days, and it erases,” Lee said.
By educating the public on the cameras’ functionality and purpose, Lee hopes to assuage the public’s apprehension about the devices.
“I do understand how some might feel that this is using technology that could be used for nefarious purposes,” he said. “Most people just want to know how it works, what it entails and usually once I’ve explained it, they’re mostly supportive and they see the success we’re having, and realize that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.”
The department, said Lee, is hoping to expand the use of the cameras in the next several years.
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