Piedmont gives public access to data from license plate readers

PIEDMONT — Police have launched a first-of-its-kind public transparency portal for their automated license plate readers, a way to directly share information with citizens on the Police Department’s camera policies and practices.

Atlanta-based Flock Safety operates in 40 states and 1,000 cities, working with more than 600 local law enforcement agencies. The company provides hardware and software solutions for neighborhoods, business owners and law enforcement to solve and reduce crime. The transparency portal is new, though, with Piedmont the nation’s first city to employ it, according to Flock Safety. The company was founded four years ago “to improve safety while protecting the critical right of citizen privacy,” Flock co-founder Matt Feury said in a news release.

“We place privacy, transparency and bias mitigation at the forefront of our product development and are constantly engineering new features that encourage and align with our … principles,” Feury added.

Flock Safety does not employ facial recognition, according to the company, and adheres to encryption standards and does not share or sell customer data to third parties. The portal, which can be accessed at transparency.flocksafety.com/piedmont-ca-pd, “demonstrates the Piedmont police department’s commitment to openness, accountability and integrity,” Piedmont police Chief Jeremy Bowers said in a public statement.

“ALPR (automated license plate reader) technology has been a critical tool in our public safety efforts. It’s important that our community has the ability to understand how we are using this technology,” Bowers also stated. “The department is working to transition its ALPR system entirely to Flock Safety, which will provide the public with more insight into Piedmont Police’s ALPR usage.”

The new portal and its use of Flock Safety cameras provides the public with anonymized audit logs. It displays usage statistics, the number of cameras owned, shared data with other law enforcement agencies and statistics on the number of vehicles captured on the cameras. “Hot hits” on the license plates of cars entering the city alert police to stolen vehicles, vehicles that have been used in crimes or other criminal activity associated with vehicles’ license plates.

In his first-quarter crime report to the City Council in May, Bowers said police made 13 arrests and recovered 15 stolen vehicles in 2021, all of which were directly related to the automated license plate readers, compared to one arrest and two recovered stolen vehicles in 2020’s first quarter.

When license plate readers were first introduced several years ago, some residents complained about privacy and the accessibility of usage statistics. Piedmont police Capt. Chris Monahan said there were concerns earlier, but no recent complaints. Monahan said there are a total of 49 cameras between both systems. Forty-four cameras are on a different system and will slowly be switched to Flock Safety “Falcon” cameras.

The new cameras are now online and located at Blair Avenue and Calvert Court; LaSalle at Indian avenues, Harvard Avenue at Ranleigh Way; Trestle Glen and Park avenues; and Trestle Glen at Valant Place. Monahan did not have information as to the cost of the new program; Bowers is on vacation and was unavailable for comment this week.

Linda Davis is a longtime Piedmont correspondent. Contact her with news tips or comments at dlinda249@gmail.com.

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Author: Linda Davis

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