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Chesterfield Township license plate cameras draw some criticism, lead to some arrests

Posted at 4:43 AM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 06:39:40-04

(WXYZ) — No matter where you turn, you're likely being watched. That includes when you're driving around metro Detroit. New license plate cameras were just installed in Chesterfield Township, and police say it could help solve a wide range of crimes. Others, though, are concerned.

Some drivers worry the new cameras are an uncomfortable sign that Big Brother is always watching.

"I think it is good and I think it is bad," Jojo Merrelli, who lives in the area, said. "I mean I think it is an invasion of privacy because I don't want to be checked every time I drive by the corner, but I also say if there is a serial rapist or a murderer and that can help get them that's good."

In all, there are ten license plate cameras that were installed in the township.

"We did have some people struggling with it on our Facebook page. We had a couple people mention it when it first went out three weeks ago, we have had, nothing yet, we have had nothing but positive," Detective Sgt. Kenneth Anderson with the Chesterfield Twp. Police Department said.

Those cameras are now at three locations: 23 Mile and Gratiot, Gratiot and Marketplace and 23 Mile near E. Russell Schmidt.

Police say in the past month they've tested out the cameras, they have been able to make arrests.

"I believe we've had two stolen autos, and a couple two, three stolen license plates that we would have never contact with I mean we would have had to have had an officer right behind it and run the plate the traditional way," Anderson said.

Here's how they work: When a car drives past an intersection, the cameras register the license plate. It will send an alert to police if it's been flagged as being part of a crime.

It can also work to find a car potentially connected to a crime without a license plate number. For example, if there was a crime that happened nearby the cameras involving a black BMW, police can use the cameras to search for black BMWs that drove the intersection around the time of the crime.

"At least we have this tool that if we have this violent horrible kidnapping, homicide, who knows what, we have somewhere to go to," Anderson added.

However, there has been at least one example of a license plate camera not working as intended.

A year ago in Aurora, Colorado, a Black family was wrongfully detained with children crying while being forced to lay down on hot pavement. At one point, police pointed a gun at them.

What led to this scary moment for the family was a license plate camera. The car the family was driving was flagged as stolen, but it wasn't. The car did have the same plates as a stolen motorcycle from a different state.

"This is about solving crime and doing so in an ethic manor," Josh Thomas, the VP of Marketing for Flock Safety, the makers of the license plate cameras.

He said their cameras are more advanced than the ones used in the Colorado incident.

"With Flock, we use machine learning so we can know what the state of the plate, because a Michigan plate might have the same characters as a California plate," he said.

There are around a half-dozen police departments in metro Detroit using the Flock system. They can also be purchased for businesses or neighborhood associations.

It is important to note the cameras do not use facial recognition. They are only looking at car license plates and details.