COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – More than a year ago, Prairie Township’s Board of Trustees agreed to install a dozen Flock Safety license plate reading cameras. Initially, they were installed to help law enforcement locate and apprehend criminals and missing people.
“The very first hit we received, according to the Sheriff’s Office, was a missing person,” Prairie Township Administrator James Jewell said. “It was an elderly gentleman who had gotten away from home and jumped in the car and was out driving around. And the Sheriff’s Office received a notice from the Flock’s cameras, and they were able to track the gentleman down and were able to return him safely home.”
After a year, Jewell said the program is a success. In the first year, the cameras recorded 945 hits on stolen vehicles, 580 hits on felony warrants, and 34 hits on a reported missing person, on more than 2.1 million license plate readings.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office reported the use of the cameras for investigative purposes more than 1,700 times. That included Wednesday morning when FCSO posted on its Facebook page that the cameras were used to track down a stolen car and make an arrest on drug charges and pending stolen vehicles charges.
“The fact that it’s just $24,000 a year and we’ve got 12 sets of eyes out there watching for cars that could be involved in some type of crime, I just think it’s a great investment,” Jewell said.
The 12 cameras are set up in high-crime and high-traffic areas. They run on solar-powered batteries, something the township doesn’t have to pay extra to maintain. When a car drives by the camera, an image of the car and license plate are gathered. That plate number is then run through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office database. If it comes back as a hit on a stolen car, missing person, or warrant for arrest, a notification is sent directly to deputies via text and/or email.
“What’s the threshold that they’re looking for. Obviously, a missing person is very important. A stolen car is going to be very important. If it’s anything at that level or above, that’s when it’s going to get a hit on a car. It’s not going after someone who’s got parking violations or some speeding ticket or something like that,” explained Jewell.
The service has come under scrutiny in many neighborhoods. Particularly the ACLU has criticized the use of Flock Safety license plate reading cameras.
Jewell said he disagrees with the ACLU assessment of the tool by saying the cameras aren’t used to do anything a person couldn’t also do standing in a public space.