Monday, March 4, 2024

New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office requests $43K to install 15 license plate detection cameras

The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office wants 15 license plate recognition cameras for use at local schools and county parks. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Flock Safety)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is expected to contract with a public safety firm that builds free-standing cameras with license plate detection technology. 

Flock Safety, Inc. makes solar-powered, motion-activated cameras that capture and record myriad data about passing vehicles: the license plate, make, vehicle type and other unique details like damages and after-market alterations. 

The sheriff’s office is requesting the board of commissioners approve a $43,750 contract with Flock Safety, to be paid using controlled substance tax funds, for the installation and use of 15 new cameras. The $65,000 cost of the program’s second year will be included in the next annual county budget (the $25,000 subscription price is free the first year).

The 15 Flock cameras — which are stocked with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database and other law enforcement tools — are planned for use at local schools and county parks, according to a sheriff’s office spokesperson. 

“Upon detection, the Flock Service creates images and recordings of suspect vehicles and can provide notifications to local law enforcement,” according to the board of commissioners’ agenda. 

According to the company, Flock cameras are currently used by more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in more than 1,200 communities. The Atlanta-headquartered company has branched out around the country, raising more than $230 million in venture capital since its 2017 origin. 

The cameras send real-time alerts to local law enforcement when wanted or stolen vehicles are photographed. Through integration with Amber Alert, the company has helped locate more than 20 missing children, according to a Flock spokesperson. 

Flock Safety also names privacy as a priority. The company says its data “will never be shared without permission, sold to third parties or used for unpaid fines, unauthorized viewing outside of a legitimate crime-related event, or kept in a library.” Flock Safety says it does not engage in predictive policing, and that its technology does not record information about the human being driving the vehicle.

Its footage is automatically deleted after 30 days, unless an elected entity like a city council, county commission or sheriff “legislates a different retention period,” according to Flock’s website. 

The contract with Flock is being considered in exemption of competitive bidding requirements since the company is the only one of its type compatible with the Axon software currently used by NHCSO. 

Axon makes body-worn cameras that can be mounted to patrol vehicles or exhibited on a deputy’s uniform. Data from both Axon and Flock Safety’s devices can be saved to for central access, “therefore allowing for the integration between Flock and Axon to prevent the need to purchase or utilize additional storage means,” according to the board of commissioners’ agenda. 

The board of commissioners will meet Monday at 4 p.m. in the historic courthouse downtown. 

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