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Indiana News

Goshen installing eight license plate reader cameras in effort to prevent crime

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Flock Safety
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The city of Goshen is installing eight license plate reader cameras in an effort to prevent crime after the Goshen Board of Works voted unanimously last week to approve a one-year, $20,000 agreement with camera maker Flock Safety.

The cameras will be installed at strategic locations around the city and will operate 24/7. Each time a car passes by one, it automatically takes a photo of the rear.

The license plate number, state and other descriptive information about the vehicle — like color or whether it’s a sedan or SUV — are analyzed by a computer algorithm and recorded in a searchable database.

It’s sort of like a red light camera, but Josh Thomas, Flock Safety’s vice president of marketing, said the cameras are not used for traffic enforcement.

“We don’t do that at all,” Thomas said. “This is just about solving and preventing both property and violent crimes.”

Thomas said the majority of crimes involve a vehicle, and so these cameras can help capture evidence.

It can also send real-time alerts to the Goshen police. The system is connected to national databases of stolen vehicles, wanted people and Silver and Amber Alerts.

When you get an Amber Alert text, for example, the cameras also are sent that information.

“So, if that car drives by any Flock Safety camera, in real time we’ll send an alert to police and say, ‘The car that you wanted was spotted in this location,’” Thomas said.

Those real time alerts, Thomas said, have helped solve crimes such as carjackings and “more than two dozen” Amber Alerts.

But this is also a form of police surveillance — so should you be concerned?

There are safeguards in place to prevent abuse, Thomas said. Outside of those real-time alerts, you have to put in a search reason to access the system.

“We recommend you put in a case number, that says why are you searching this footage,” he said.

Those searches are logged and audited, and those logs are available to the public through a public records request. All footage captured by the cameras is deleted automatically after 30 days.

Since the photos capture the back of the vehicle, Thomas said they do not include the driver or passengers.

“We don’t use facial recognition and never will,” he said.

Thomas also said that Flock Safety does not have access to the recordings, which are stored on an encrypted Amazon Web Services cloud server. 

Only the customer — in this case, the Goshen Police Department — does. But the department can choose to share access to the footage with others — such as the South Bend Police Department — if needed.

Flock Safety has over 100 customers in Indiana. Thomas said 70 are law enforcement agencies, and the rest are private entities such as homeowners associations and small businesses.

It also has 20 customers in Michigan, 15 of which are law enforcement.

WVPE reached out to the city of Goshen, but nobody was available for an interview. The city did provide documents detailing the agreement.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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