AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Akron has started the installation of more than 100 cameras that can read license plates and help identify cars by make, model, color and other distinguishing features.
The Flock cameras are first being installed in some of the highest crime areas of the city and in each of Akron‘s wards.
In Lyndhurst, the cameras were recently credited with helping police identify a stolen vehicle that entered into their community and capture a suspect in that crime.
By giving police additional ‘eyes’ in the city, Police Chief Steve Mylett has called them a “Force Multiplier.”
The cameras take still images from the rear of cars as they pass by. That information can be used to help identify cars that have been used in a crime or to help find individuals who are missing, including when there is an Amber Alert.
The company says they can take photos of cars in two lanes travelling at 75 miles an hour.
“Flock cameras are essentially license plate readers, but Flock license plate reader cameras have object recognition so that means that they can recognize a roof rack on your car. They can recognize that you have a sticker in the back window,” said Akron Deputy Police Chief Mike Caprez. “Some cities across the country have noted 70% reduction in crime. We don’t know what it’s going to do here in Akron, but our expectation is that it will have an impact on crime. Less people being victimized because these are out there on the street.”
But the cameras also raise concerns from individuals and organizations, including the ACLU, wondering how the information could be used.
Flock Security says the cameras do not record video and because they are looking at the car from behind, they do not get images of individuals in the car.
“The cameras don’t contain any facial recognition so there is no searching on the software by a person’s gender or race, any sort of characteristics. There’s typically not even capturing an image of the person in the vehicle. It’s just the back of the vehicle and the license plate. This is not tracking or surveillance software, this is specifically for the purposes of solving crime,” said Holly Beilin, a spokesperson for Flock Security.
In Macedonia, where the cameras have previously been installed and have been watching over everyone who enters and leaves the community, Police Chief Jon Golden says they have also heard the concerns.
“Some people are worried that, you know, people are going to get traffic tickets out of these things. Nothing like that happens. We do not write traffic tickets based on these Flock cameras. Doesn’t work that way,” Golden told FOX 8 in June.
The company also says the data is only stored for 30 days and then it is permanently erased.
“I think something that’s notable is that we are in hundreds of communities in Ohio and we are expanding very quickly across the state and the region in the Midwest.,” said Beilin. “We are solving hundreds of crimes. We are helping law enforcement solve hundreds of crimes every day across the country.”