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License Plate Readers Add Real-Time Alerts for Missing Kids

Automatic license plate recognition camera systems from Flock Safety are set up all around the country and can now be activated by an Amber Alert to alert law enforcement when they capture footage of a suspected vehicle.

Police car with flashing lights at night
Last August in Chamblee, Ga., one-year-old Mateo Mantufar-Barrera was snatched from his stroller and disappeared into an SUV. An Amber Alert was issued, and with the help of the Flock Safety camera system, the SUV was located and the boy brought home safely.

That successful outcome helped seal a partnership between the startup, Flock Safety, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), using Flock Safety’s Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) camera system to send real-time alerts to law enforcement during an Amber Alert.

“During an Amber Alert, time is the enemy. It is imperative for us to utilize every tool possible to reach the community and search for a missing child,” John Bischoff, vice president of NCMEC’s Missing Children Division, said in a press release. “The relationship with Flock Safety will allow us to take that search a step further and search active roadways, as well.”

Flock Safety has cameras set up in 40 states and more than a thousand cities, working with more than 600 local law enforcement agencies. These ALPR cameras can now be enabled to send real-time alerts to law enforcement about a vehicle that is being sought in connection with an Amber Alert.

The cameras were placed in these locations by local residents and businesses that were already sharing the information with local law enforcement to help solve crimes. Local residents or businesses could elect to download footage from the cameras to share with law enforcement or provide law enforcement with the ability to directly access the camera footage. Linking up with the Amber Alert system adds another layer of data police can use.

“Now, this is just more information to get in the hands of law enforcement,” said Josh Thomas, vice president of marketing with Flock Safety.

When there is an Amber Alert triggered in an area that has signed on with Flock Safety, that information is fed into the system, which will then “search” for a suspected vehicle based on a license plate number or other feature of the auto.

“The camera picks up the license plate and automatically sends it to law enforcement,” Thomas said. “They can have it sent to a patrol officer in a vehicle or on their cellphones or it can go to a dispatch center or a detective.”

The alert will say “the wanted vehicle for the Amber Alert was seen at this location, at this exact time and is headed in this direction of travel,” Thomas said.

The cameras are about the size of a football and are installed about 12 feet off the ground in areas that would easily capture license plate numbers. Businesses or communities can sign onto a license agreement that provides them with the hardware and software for the system.

As of December 2020, more than a thousand children have been recovered as a result of the Amber Alert program, according to the NCMEC. Additionally, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent of all crimes are committed with the use of a motor vehicle, and the ALPR can search the FBI’s National Crime Information Center hotlist of wanted vehicles, giving law enforcement another tool to solve crimes.
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