More Dayton-area cities have installed automated license plate reading devices in the past several months and at least one other local police department wants to add them next year.
Others said they plan to shift from in-cruiser technology to stationary cameras or are assessing expanded use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) due to the devices’ effectiveness in helping solve crimes, a recent Dayton Daily News survey found.
“They have assisted us, but (it’s) still early in the process,” said Capt. Shawn Sumner of Beavercreek, where ALPRs were installed in May.
Some said they would like to have more transparent processes for cities approving the use of the devices, including public forums where benefits and drawbacks are presented.
Dayton Daily News surveys of communities in Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties found at least 12 have installed or approved the technology and eight that have not.
Police tout successes
“The police department has evaluated several ways to reduce crime and increase the overall successful arrest and prosecution rates with violent crimes,” Riverside Maj. Matthew Sturgeon said in the survey. “The Flock system will in theory provide the city with fifteen extra sets of ‘eyes’.”
Flock Safety markets stationary ALPRs and is a commonly used vendor in this region, including by Beavercreek, Centerville, Kettering and Springboro.
The Atlanta-based business that earlier this year touted more than 1,200 law enforcement agencies as clients now has about 2,000, according to its website.
Dayton currently has license plate readers in all police cruisers, but plans are in the works to contract with Flock next year for stationary ones, according to James Rider, spokesman for the city’s police.
The company’s ALPRs have been operating at 10 Kettering sites since June.
“(They) help identify those involved in criminal activity or locate those individuals in danger … They are a valuable tool for law enforcement,” Police Chief Chip Protsman said in the survey.
The cams have led to 23 arrests and the recovery of 16 stolen vehicles, he added.
Through an ALPR, police in September were notified of a suspect vehicle on East Dorothy Lane, Kettering documents state. The technology indicated the automobile was reported stolen in Miamisburg, according to police records. A 20-year-old woman charged with a felony was later convicted, police and court records show.
Since eight ALPRs were installed in Miamisburg this past summer, police in that city have recovered “numerous stolen vehicles” and were aided in solving other crimes, officials said.
“When any type of crime occurs, it can and has helped identify a suspect and places the suspect vehicle in the area at the time,” according to Miamisburg Lt. Will Ring. “It also gives the officers an image of the vehicle, so they know exactly what they are looking for. If someone only gets a description of a vehicle, it can be searched by just the description, which will then give us a plate to follow up on.”
Cost and non use
The ALPRs also helped Miamisburg police identify a suspect “on a crime spree across the county,” according to Det. Jeff Muncy. The subject was later charged with several counts from various cities, he added.
One in-cruiser reader is used by Troy, but that may be expanded, said Shawn McKinney, police chief.
Fairborn, Lebanon and Oakwood said they have no plans to use the devices.
“Currently, we have other budgetary priorities that take precedence,” Fairborn Police Chief Terry Bennington said.
Flock’s technology offers lightweight, motion-activated, solar-powered cameras on a lease basis, company spokeswoman Holly Beilin said.
The system’s cloud-based software allows law enforcement to search through recorded pictures by vehicle make, color, type, license plate, state and other unique details.
The charge per unit ranges from about $2,000 to $2,500 annually, Beilin said. Communities contracting with Flock that responded to the DDN surveys indicated similar prices.
Several local agencies said they fund the contracts as part of the department’s budget. Miami Twp. has used forfeiture money while Troy has used a Homeland Security grant.
The business handles maintenance, digital storage, software updates and can replace cameras with the latest models, according to Beilin.
Concerns about use
Dayton’s plans to install the company’s devices involve placing them in “select neighborhoods” that request them, Rider said.
He wants to learn more about how residents in neighborhoods can express their support or opposition on the issue.
“I think there has to be an opportunity for residents to have accurate information about the pros and cons of these technologies, how they possibly impact their privacy and civil rights,” Mateo said.
“And they have to provide well-balanced information about the technology — not just trying to present to the community why they want them to use this technology or to take people who are advocates for them and use their support to express the support of all residents,” he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has expressed concern with the devices.
“ALPR(s) can be a useful tool for police officers, helping them recover stolen cars and arrest people with outstanding warrants. However, narrow guidelines must be implemented to protect Ohioans’ privacy,” according to the organization.
Discussions “about how this could potentially violate privacy, (how) it might not violate privacy, what the uses are for” are needed, the group’s chief lobbyist, Gary Daniels, told the Dayton Daily News earlier this year. “But in so many communities those conversations don’t take place.”
While acknowledging potential benefits of ALPRs, Mateo said the coalition has “advocated for … the city and the police to be honest with the community about how (the devices) could have uses that the community wants and have risks that the community wants to avoid or minimize. And there (are) ways to create safeguards to do that.”
Safeguards and the lack of legislative oversight have been issues for the Ohio ACLU. Only five states — Arkansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah and Vermont — have laws governing their use, according to the organization’s website.
Among the requirements the statewide group would like is an annual reporting of ALPR uses and practices.
The Dayton Daily News surveyed area communities this past spring and this again fall on the use of automated license plate readers. The combined data indicated the following:
•Installed or plan to install ALPRs: Beavercreek, Centerville, Dayton*, Franklin, Kettering, Miamisburg, Miami Twp., Riverside, Springboro, Troy**, Vandalia and West Carrollton.
•Not using ALPRs: Bellbrook, Carlisle, Clearcreek Twp., Fairborn, Lebanon, Oakwood, Piqua and Waynesville.
*Currently uses in-cruiser devices but plans to use stationary ones.
**Has one in-cruiser ALRPs but is considering a stationary one.
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