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Are license plate reading cameras coming to Akron? Akron Police plan to ask council for funding

flock safety camera
Flock Safety
The cameras would be installed in high-crime areas of Akron, according to Akron Police.

Akron Police hope to install about 130 license plate-reading cameras throughout the city as early as this summer.

The cameras use artificial intelligence to capture pictures of plates, as well as other identifying features such as the make and model of a car, when a person drives past according to Deputy Chief Michael Caprez.

That data can then be used to help police solve crimes, such as locating stolen vehicles and crime suspects, much quicker, Caprez said.

Police input data they know about a car into the system, and the cloud-based software shows cars that match the description and where they were most recently located, he said.

“It decreases the time for the process of elimination to occur, and it also gives geographical data about where that vehicle was and when it was there and what direction it was going. It speeds along the process exponentially,” Caprez said.

The cameras, developed by Atlanta-based Flock Safety, are already being used by dozens of cities in Northeast Ohio, including 34 cities in Cuyahoga County and three in Summit, according to a Flock spokesperson. Macedonia Police recently used their cameras to quickly find a stolen car.

The cameras would especially be helpful in cases where someone reports a crime but did not take down the license plate number, Caprez said. If they know the color or type of car involved, police would be one step closer to finding it due to the enhanced technology, he said.

“So we can put that information into our system and within moments, it would be able to tell us - these cars matching the description that you’ve put in passed this camera at this time going in this direction,” Caprez said.

Additionally, thousands of cities and police departments across the country use Flock’s database, meaning it could help them locate suspects who have driven across state lines, he said.

The technology could also help with missing person cases, such as for older adults with dementia who leave their homes, or Amber Alerts, Caprez added.

“If they pass one of our Flock cameras and we put the information in, it’ll tell us pretty quickly where they are,” he said. “I think the possibilities are many. I think it’s going to be a good tool for us.”

If approved by city council, the cameras would cost about $330,000, Caprez said. The city may use some of its allocated funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to pay for the project, but those details are still in the works, he said.

The city is compiling a final estimate and additional information from Flock before the project can be proposed to city council, but Caprez hopes the cameras will be installed by summer.

The cameras are part of the department’s efforts to increase security in high-crime areas of the city, he said. They would like at least 20 cameras in the area south of the University of Akron, where two people were killed last year, he added.

In other cities that have installed the Flock cameras, residents have expressed privacy concerns about the cameras’ enhanced surveillance capabilities. The ACLU has called for rules and regulations to be put in place to try to protect individuals’ privacy.

Caprez said he understands the concern, but said the data is only accessible by police and is deleted from the database after 30 days.

Additionally, the cameras do not have facial recognition capabilities and would not be used for speed enforcement, he said.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.