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Garner, N.C., PD Pairs Plate Readers With Gunshot Detection

The police department will be installing Flock Safety Raven gunshot audio detectors in conjunction with additional Flock Safety license plate recognition cameras. The plan is raising privacy concerns.

A police officer reviews Flock Safety camera footage on a laptop in a patrol car.
Image courtesy of Flock Safety.
(TNS) — The Garner Police Department will be pairing new gunshot-detection technology with an existing program that photographs license plates.

The new gunshot detectors will help solve more crimes, police say, but the latter program has already raised privacy concerns.

The police department will be installing Flock Safety Raven gunshot audio detectors for the first time and installing additional Flock Safety License Plate Recognition cameras.

Traditional gunshot-detection systems alert police to the sound of a possible gunshot. The Raven system works with the Flock Safety license-plate readers so that when a gunshot is detected, the cameras in the area automatically turn on and capture visual evidence of the scene.

Capt. Chris Adams, public information officer for the Garner Police Department, said coupling the two systems will give officers information they would not have otherwise. The cameras capture still images and do not shoot video, he added.

Garner currently has 15 license plate recognition cameras and will be adding five more, Adams said.

The audio detectors, which will cost $25,000 annually, will be installed in the next few months, he said. They will cover 1 square mile of Garner, comprising three areas where shootings have occurred.. The department will not know the exact number of detectors until they are installed, “because it varies based on the design of the area and other geographical factors.”

The department does not disclose the locations of the gunshot audio detectors or the license plate cameras.

Garner Mayor Ken Marshburn said he has heard largely positive feedback from both citizens and police about the Flock Safety devices.

Since the Flock cameras were installed in February 2022, the Garner Police Department has had 225 alerts, with 60% of cases successfully resolved, and 71% of stolen vehicles detected by the cameras recovered, which Adams called “impressive.”


While Adams believes the Flock products bring Garner a net “benefit,” not everyone sees it that way.

Chad Marlow, a senior policy consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union, co-wrote a February 2023 article urging civilians to oppose the use of Flock cameras due to data privacy concerns.

In the article, Marlow and ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley state that they do not find automatic license plate recognition cameras themselves objectionable, but are concerned with Flock’s nationwide network that makes data available to any of its law enforcement customers.

In an interview with The News & Observer, Marlow said Flock has taken an existing technology in automatic license plate readers and put a “whole new spin” on it. In addition to running license plate data against local lists, Flock allows license plate data to be compared to national and international lists and lets police departments nationwide search other local departments’ data.

Many police departments were not aware of exactly what they were signing up for, Marlow said he and Stanley discovered while working on their article. While Marlow is not certain of what Flock’s current use of data is, the company’s terms of service give it the right to use the license plate data worldwide.

Marlow said he would have a privacy concern about the Flock system even if he fully trusted his local police force, which, he added, a lot of people do.

“So the question then is, do I trust law enforcement from all over the country, in all over the world? Right? And the answer to that is absolutely no,” he said.

“If I am someone who wants to seek and receive abortion care, do I trust law enforcement all over the United States? I do not. If I am Black or brown skinned do I trust law enforcement all over the United States? I do not, and I might not even trust it locally,” he said.

Adams said he understands if people have privacy concerns about the Flock products and that the cameras do not have facial recognition technology. Nor does the Garner Police Department use them for the general identification of people.

“We don’t use them for any kind of minor traffic offenses or anything of that nature,” he said. “It’s all serious matters — vehicles that have been reported stolen in law enforcement databases, vehicles that had been involved in serious offenses in other jurisdictions or potentially our jurisdiction as well.”

The police department has had “very, very little” concerns voiced to them about the Flock systems, Adams said.


Garner is not the only municipality in North Carolina — or nationally — to use gunshot detection and license plate readers, or the Flock devices specifically.

According to a January 2023 article by Triad City Beat, Winston-Salem agreed to install 25 of Flock Safety’s license plate readers across all eight wards of the city. Winston-Salem Police said the footage would not be sold or shared by Flock Safety, according to the article.

Flock Safety also has license plate readers in other North Carolina cities including Raleigh and Greensboro. Twenty-five Flock cameras were installed in Raleigh in June 2022. As of February 2023, Raleigh police reported that 41 people had been arrested on outstanding warrants after Flock alerts.

Instead of using the Flock Safety gunshot detectors, Winston-Salem uses ShotSpotter, a different device. A study by the Center for Crime Science Violence and Prevention analyzed ShotSpotter’s implementation there, and found that police response times to ShotSpotter alerts were almost five minutes faster than gunfire incidents reported by citizens. Coverage areas of Winston-Salem with ShotSpotter had a 24% decrease in aggravated assaults since the software’s implementation, according to the report.

Durham also kicked off a yearlong pilot of ShotSpotter in December 2022. The sensors are in 3 square miles in East and Southeast Durham, where the city says a third of all gunshot injuries and deaths occur. On New Year’s Day, the system did not alert on a drive-by shooting that sent five people to the hospital.

Marlow said gunshot detection in general tends to drive more police into already over-policed communities, which are often lower-income and/or Black and brown communities. This was also a concern raised by some Durham City Council members who voted against the program.

“So to have police charging in, thinking that they’re dealing with someone who is shooting a gun into these neighborhoods, you know, it can produce unintended consequences, right?” he said. “People can get hurt, especially if you have a false positive, and sometimes that happens.”

©2023 Raleigh News & Observer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.