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Police call new license plate cameras around metro Detroit a 'game changer'

Posted at 4:58 PM, Jun 13, 2024

(WXYZ) — A new type of license plate reader cameras are being used across metro Detroit to apprehend criminals.

"They are just tracking license plates to give us leads in our investigations," said Taylor Police Chief John Blair.

Since the beginning of this year, 50 of the cameras have been installed across Taylor and another 27 on patrol cars. Chief Blair says the cutting-edge technology has been a game changer.

"It gives us an advantage. Vehicles are used in more than 80 percent of crimes. We know criminals use those to facilitate their crimes, and if we can get the license plates, it's going to help catch them," he said.

The city-funded camera system clocks in around 9 million license plate reads a month.

"This month in May we had 220+ vehicles that have been wanted. We have used Flock to solve all sorts of crime," he said.

These cameras have also helped in the recovery of stolen vehicles. Body cam showed an officer receiving an alert from the Flock cameras about a stolen vehicle, and then, a traffic stop is made. As per Taylor police, since the installation of the Flock cameras, they are now recovering up to 10 stolen vehicles a month.

"If we want to do surveillance on somebody. If we knew what car they were coming in from, instead of running an entire team of 6-8 officers in cars, we can actually track that offender as they move from location to location," he said.

But Joseph Holme, who frequently visits the city's Heritage Park, says this is the first time he has noticed the cameras and feels more needs to be done to create awareness.

"Like this guy here, he doesn't know that his license plate is being read even though it's for public safety, that I understand. The question is, what else can it be used for?" asked Holme.

Yes, with great power comes great responsibility. I met with Lt. Jeff Adamisin to get more information about the cameras.

"So, the plates are state owned, the plates and the vehicles are not protected, and this camera is only taking pictures of vehicles and the plate. It's not taking any pictures of drivers or passengers. It eliminates the right to privacy. Because as we are driving down the road, we are all able to see vehicles that are passing us," said Lt. Adamisin.

Lt. Adamisin says the cameras are real-time and are also being used in other cities across metro Detroit.

"I have 6,300 different cameras throughout the United States," said Lt. Adamisin.

He showed me this map of Flock cameras across the country and as you zoom in, there's Michigan and metro Detroit.

"You got to remember these vehicles traveling 45 to 50 miles an hour and their newest cameras are good for 100 miles an hour," he said.

Moreover, the police can also use the technology to search for vehicles without a plate by just typing the car's description.

ACLU's Liz Balck has been studying the Flock camera system.

Balck says there are talks of a statewide statute; if passed, all law enforcement agencies will have to discard the collected data after the pre-determined timeframe.

"A policy that we would see is that Flock may not sell or share that data, even the government, except for limited situations like warrants or on-going investigations," said Balck.

For people who are concerned about privacy, Lt. Adamisin says, "Now that the information stored within this program is only kept for 30 days, so we are not sharing this information, Flock doesn't share this information."

To learn more about the Flock system, go here.

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