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Jackson plans to install license plate readers around the city

Posted at 11:08 PM, Apr 11, 2022

JACKSON, Mich. — License plate recognition cameras are coming to Jackson. The City Council approved the project in March.

Jackson police want the cameras to help them in investigations and in locating missing persons.

“It’s something new, that I think will have a significant impact on our ability to solve and investigate crimes to ultimately make a safer community,” Police Chief Elmer Hitt said.

There will be cameras in 10 locations across the city. They will be on major streets like Cooper Street, Elm Avenue, Lansing Avenue and West Avenue

Two cameras will be placed at Martin Luther King Drive and High Street capturing both eastbound and westbound traffic.

“It is kind of a central location of a lot of our known gun violence that we experience,” Hitt said. “It is a highly traveled intersection. A lot of vehicle traffic goes through there. We feel it will capture a lot of vehicles that travel through that area.”

City of Jackson
Intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr, Drive and High Street in Jackson

Officers will be notified immediately if, for example, a vehicle that was reported stolen passes by one of the cameras. The cameras are provided by Flock Safety.

“They can capture vehicle details and the license plate of that car so that if a car drives by, we take a picture of the back of that vehicle and we use machine learning to identify the type of car it is, the color, distinguishing marks like a roof rack or bumper stickers," said Flock's Vice President of Communications Josh Thomas. "So that way if an eyewitness sees something and they say, ‘Hey, it was a yellow Jeep with a roof rack or shooting a truck with a roof rack,' you can literally go into our system and, like an Amazon search, you can type in yellow truck, roof rack, find that specific vehicle, get the license plate and give it to police.”

The Michigan American Civil Liberties Union says this technology could be easily abused by law enforcement as it could encroach on the public’s privacy, according to Communications Strategist Dana Chicklas.

“Technology like automatic license plate readers has the potential to track and invade the privacy of people’s daily lives just in case they do something wrong,” she said. “Clear regulations must be put in place to keep city officials or police from tracking our movements on a massive scale.”

The ACLU lays out five principles law enforcement should adhere to when it comes to license plate tracking technology.

  • They must only be used by law enforcement agencies to investigate hits and in other ways in which they believe plate data is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation
  • The government must not store data about innocent people for any lengthy period. They say unless plate data has been flagged, data should be stored for nothing longer than days or weeks
  • The public should be able to find out if their plate data is contained in a law enforcement agency’s database
  • Law enforcement agencies should not share license plate reader data with third parties that don’t follow these listed principles and they should be transparent with who they are sharing data with. 
  • Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage publicly on an annual basis at the very least.

According to Thomas, all data will automatically be deleted every 30 days on a rolling basis and they never share data or sell it to third parties.

“We don’t use facial recognition. This is not about identifying people,” Thomas said. “There’s no biometric or personally identifiable information so we don’t know an address or a registered owner. We’re simply collecting the pictures of these cars and giving the police for them to go investigate.”

License Plate Reader

Each camera is $2,500 per year. The department is under a one-year contract with Flock Safety. The department is paying for the cameras through a grant they typically receive yearly from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We’re going to look at the first year and evaluate it at the end of the year to see if we want to continue it," Hitt said. "We could discontinue it after a year and be done with it. But, certainly if we choose to continue on with the system, we would have the additional $25,000 per year for the 10 cameras.”

Kalamazoo, Holland, Detroit, New Baltimore, Southfield, Madison Heights, Roseville and Flint are other cities where they use technology from Flock Safety.

“They’re solving things like they’ve taken an indecent exposure suspect off the streets, they solve multiple stolen vehicle incidents, there have been violent crimes solved, because the evidence that police have been able to unlock with this technology,” Thomas said.

Other counties are in the process of rolling out readers, including Kent County and Oakland County.

There is not a exact date by which the cameras will be installed.

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