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Georgia County to Use License Plate Readers to Aid Investigations

Houston County commissioners voted to move forward on a four-year agreement with Flock Safety. District Attorney William Kendall said the photos will only be used for active investigations and certain emergency situations.

(TNS) — Houston County is moving forward with a plan to install license plate-reading cameras across the county to assist law enforcement investigations.

The effort is a collaboration between the Houston County Board of Commissioners, the Houston County District Attorney and Houston County Sheriff's Office as well as the city governments of Warner Robins, Perry and Centerville and their respective police departments.

At a Tuesday meeting, Houston County commissioners voted to move forward on a four-year agreement with Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based tech company that provides the cameras and service.

Flock Safety's cameras will be installed throughout the county and take still photos of the license plates and rear sides of passing cars.

Houston County District Attorney William Kendall said the photos will only be used for active law enforcement investigations and humanitarian purposes such as locating missing persons.

"It essentially provides a search query for law enforcement, if they have a partial plate or a plate they're looking for that was involved in a missing person, abduction or criminal activity, they can go in and search the Flock cameras on our network and the ones that we have been allowed access to from other agencies in different locations, to try to identify either where that vehicle has recently been or if it's passed by a certain camera where crime has occurred, things like that," Kendall told the Telegraph.

During the Tuesday's Houston County Board of Commissioners meeting, Kendall stated that about 70% of crimes involve a vehicle.

The cameras will not be used to record video or monitor traffic speeds, authorities said.

"They don't even have a capability to capture speed, let alone are they calibrated or even set in the right direction to monitor whether or not somebody ran the stop sign or stoplight," Kendall said. "They don't have that functionality and they can't be expanded to be able to do that in the future."

The cameras will also not be used to capture faces and they do not have facial recognition software.

The photos captured will only be stored for 30 days on a secure network and will then be "hard deleted."

Kendall said law enforcement agencies in the county had the chance to use Flock Safety's system while vetting the program and have already seen success.

"In Perry, a 14- or 15-year-old girl was taken by a 35-year-old man off in a car, presumably up toward the metro area to be human trafficked," he said. "And in the process of doing that, investigators down in Perry were able to determine what the plate number was, or at least suspected plate number was of that vehicle. They plugged that into the Flock camera system even though they don't have Flock cameras and the vehicle was located up in Henry County and stopped within minutes by police officers up there. The 35-year-old male was picked up and taken into custody and the girl was sent back home safely."

The new service agreement underwritten by Houston County will last for four years.

Kendall estimates that between 75-100 cameras will be installed in the county starting next spring.

"They're operated on solar power and they work with a cell phone signal so they don't require tying into a power source or an Internet connection or anything like that," Kendall said. "So they're very self-sufficient and cost-effective cameras."

The cameras will operate 24/7 and are capable of capturing 72,000 license plate reads per day.

"We're in a very odd time in our country where just about every jurisdiction across the nation is suffering, wanting more law enforcement," Kendall said. "And to have another tool for law enforcement to use to help solve crime, to do it quicker, to be more effective, with the shortage of people that we have, it's kind of a no-brainer that this is a good system to go for. The fact that you can get multiple different law enforcement agencies in a room to vet four different companies and agree on one and make that joint recommendation, it was a good thing. The cooperative spirit between the law enforcement agencies, the district attorney's office, the several cities and the board of commissioners was pretty monumental on this occasion, in my opinion, and I think it's something that is at least a small victory.

"But the purchase of the cameras and implementing those in Houston County is a huge victory and certainly an investment for the future of Houston County and its citizens to be able to provide that extra layer of protection and investigative abilities. And the humanitarian efforts that go with it is a huge investment for our police and first responders and I think it's going to be a great thing."

The Warner Robins Police Department already has around 20 Flock Safety cameras that were installed through a grant earlier this year. The new agreement with Houston County will allow additional cameras to be installed.

©2022 The Macon Telegraph, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.