Centerville Police Department tests new crime-fighting technologyJan 30, 2023 02:37PM ● By Linda Petersen
Flock Safety’s software allows law enforcement to search by vehicle make, color, type, license plate, etc. The cameras only collect indiscriminate evidence. Photo/Flock Safety website
CENTERVILLE—Centerville Police Department is trying out a new safety camera/software program that is anticipated to help them track crime in the city more effectively. Lt. Allen Ackerson and Flock Safety Territorial Sales Manager Kraig Gardner presented the program to the city council at its Jan. 3 meeting.
Flock Safety’s solar-powered cameras, which can be installed at key locations in a community, and its software allow law enforcement to search by “vehicle make, color, type, license plate, state of the license plate, missing plate, covered plate, paper plate, and unique vehicle details like roof racks, bumper stickers, and more,” according to the company’s website.
The cameras only collect indiscriminate evidence “so it’s not going to be faces, personal identifiable information, there’s no traffic enforcement ever or any component of that,” Gardner said. “This is really meant for serious crimes.”
The software can only be accessed by law enforcement officers under very strict conditions and is very secure, he added. “The data automatically deletes on a rolling basis after 30 days.”
“We want to be really, really cognizant of the public’s privacy,” Gardner said. “… When we look at the data, it doesn’t support the need to keep data for more than 30 days. We’re seeing a massive amount of success that happens pretty much immediately when cases are solved quickly after the crime happens. The odds of needing to go back is very, very rare and so we thought 30 days was a great balance.”
Centerville PD has already used data from the company’s cameras located in other communities to help it solve several crimes, including locating a vehicle that was involved in a hit and run, along with a stolen vehicle and suspects in burglaries and aggravated assaults, Gardner said.
The city council unanimously approved moving forward with the pilot program. The pilot program will be implemented in Centerville in April. It will include 11 cameras although Ackerson said if the city continues with the program, they will likely utilize just five cameras.
“After the 30 days, we will analyze our data and figure out which cameras are producing the most information and then make a determination whether we’re getting a good return on our investment on the proposed amount and then identify which locations to keep those cameras out,” he said.
Depending on the number of cameras utilized by Centerville, the contract would cost between $15,000 and $32,850 a year. Flock retains ownership of the cameras and maintains them and replaces them if they are stolen or damaged, Ackerson said.
“This is exciting technology,” he said. “We’ve presented those cases that we’ve used Flock to help solve, and they’re not even our cameras.”
“I think giving them the option to go up to 11 is totally appropriate, because we don’t really know [best locations], and honestly the technology does replace a lot of the legwork pretty quickly to find some of these things out,” Councilmember George McEwan said.
The council even discussed the possibility that if the businesses wanted better data for law enforcement protecting their premises that they could donate the cost of a camera to the city to allow Centerville to place a camera nearby.
Utilizing technology such as this also helps the city mitigate the difficulty of recruiting new employees, City Manager Brant Hanson commented. “Employees are getting increasingly more expensive so really what we’re trying to find is how to be more efficient with technology, and you’re starting to see a number of items that have come before you to help us be more efficient, eliminate the potential need of hiring a person or whatever that might be. This is going to be another one of those tools that is going to help the police department be more effective and more efficient with their time.”
Ackerson said after the piloting period, the department will evaluate the program’s effectiveness and will likely ask for funds to implement it during next year’s budget process.