Community associations are constantly addressing concerns about potential crime within their neighborhoods and looking for greater peace of mind. By being on the forefront of technology, the marketplace has provided a viable product which can provide communities with camera devices that capture evidence, so police have the essential information to address crimes. To learn more about such technology, we spoke with Josh Thomas from Flock Safety in Atlanta, Georgia.
“There’s just under eight million property crimes reported every year, and it accounts for about sixteen billion dollars’ worth of loss. So this is a major problem,” Thomas said.
According to Thomas, camera technology called “license plate readers” can provide the necessary data and information to best aid police in solving crimes. Categorically, police officers can best pursue crimes with license plate information. “What they need is a real piece of actionable evidence that they can get a lead from, and that’s where the license plate comes in handy,” he said. License plate readers can often capture both data and an image in order to take full advantage of the usefulness of such evidence.
“License plate readers can work in various ways, such as automatic license plate reading, license plate reading or license plate recognition. In an automatic license plate reading camera, every time a car drives by the camera, the technology is able to automatically recognize the characters on the license plate and be able to tell you if it’s A-B-C or 1-2-3, in real time,” Thomas said.
In daylight, Thomas explained, license plate readers can capture all aspects of the imaged information, including up to a lane and half of traffic, showing details such as people walking dogs, bikes riding by, and people in cars as well as license plates. The cameras use infrared technology during the nighttime, which can still capture details such as the type of car and license plate. “87% of these property crimes go unsolved simply for the fact that police don’t have enough information on hand to pursue the crimes,” he said.
The footage collected is often stored in a digital format and can be used to assist police in solving crimes. “With the license plate reading that is happening in real time, that information has to be sent somewhere. So either the information could live on the camera, or it can live in the cloud,” Thomas noted. The data could be made easily available and accessible by storing it in the cloud, so associations could securely access the data on a phone or laptop. Other systems may store data on a DVR, which can be personally reviewed by an authorized board or committee member. He explained that advanced camera software has the ability to narrow down a search by utilizing search engine style queries to maximize the search, such as “black car,” “white truck,” or “bicycles,” even within a given timeframe.
For communities that require residents to register their vehicle, or display a tag on their vehicle, Thomas explained that the cameras could be used to differentiate between resident and non-resident vehicles. “If a non-resident vehicle was seen six times in the past week, that could be a suspected vehicle in an incident that occurred in your community,” he said.
According to Thomas, different companies have varying policies on how long the data is stored electronically, either on the device itself or in the cloud. As an example, one company may have a thirty-day time limit, and following this period will delete the footage. Data from the camera can be accessed by the operator or customer, such as the community association. “Whoever is the operator of the camera owns the footage — not the company, not law enforcement,” Thomas asserted. The footage becomes the property of the association, and it is the communities’ right to choose who has access to the footage and how that data is exchanged with other parties. Associations may permit their entire board to have access to the data, or they may direct the committee chairperson of a security committee to monitor and access the data as needed. “It’s 100% up to the customer who has access,” he said.
The camera equipment is best utilized when strategically placed in an outdoor location where associations can capture vehicle traffic. “There’s different types. There are the kind that attach to a power pole or to a street light. There are some that can even be attached to a bus, that can be mobile.” Thomas explained. “There are some that are going to be built specifically for neighborhoods, that will sit at the entrance or exit of the neighborhood.”
As an additional deterrent, Thomas recommended publicizing that your community utilizes license plate readers, and that upon entering, everyone is under twenty-four hour recording. As a point of reference, he described an association in Miami, Florida, with five entrances and exits, that posted signage in their community announcing license plate reading. Thomas said that afterwards, crimes entirely ceased within that community. In addition to using such cameras at entrances and exits, he also recommended positioning them at main thoroughfares throughout the community. “If you have a thousand, two thousand homes in your community, even if you just have one entrance, that’s an awful lot of traffic driving by,” he said.
License plate reader cameras have long been used by law enforcement agencies and with highway patrols. License plate reading hasn’t become quite as utilized or visible with the general public, however. “Traditionally, no one’s ever served the neighborhood market by giving them any kind of a tool that can give the evidence police need to solve crimes, until now,” Thomas stated.
This technology has not been employed for personal and/or association use in the past due to lack of affordability. In today’s economy, license plate readers are generally more reasonably priced to make use of its benefits. According to Thomas, license plate reading (LPR) companies may range in pricing structures, from $2k per camera, per year, up to $10k-$15k for a single camera. In contracting with a license plate reading (LPR) company, they may own the camera technology, while the community association licenses the software and user interface from the company.
“Today’s technological world is ever-changing and evolving and thus, in order to stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest advancements in technology, associations may best be served by leasing the equipment and engaging in a contract with the LPR company to update the equipment as needed,” Thomas explained. When investigating whether this option is viable for your community, consider whether a company will service the cameras, automatically update the software when available, maintain the equipment and address potential damages from vandalism, and if the company takes on the burden of ownership with data and installation costs.
Community associations are often faced with difficult decisions regarding security and protecting property. License plate reading cameras could be a worthwhile investment for a community’s ability to solve crimes and substantially prevent future crimes from happening.