NEWARK − Cameras intended to deter crime are coming to multiple communities in Licking County.
Newark, Heath and Hebron all plan to install the Flock camera systems, which officials say will help fight crime.
The camera system uses automated license plate reader technology, snapping images that are run through a national crime database. Police can be immediately alerted if a stolen car passes a camera.
A general description of the vehicle can also be searched in the Flock system database, such as the color, make, or model of the vehicle. Other identifiers such as window or bumper stickers or even front or rear racks can also be searched, with the system returning information such as the time that the vehicle in question has passed the Flock camera.
Communities across Ohio, including Akron, have installed the cameras this year.
A Newark City Council committee rejected legislation putting regulations on the Newark Police Department's installation and use of the license plate-reading cameras.
Council’s Safety Committee debated the issue at Monday night’s meeting, finally taking no action on a resolution designed to address privacy concerns over the use of data captured by the cameras.
The resolution stated, in part, that, “Any department of the city wishing to use a Networked Surveillance Program within the City of Newark must petition council for permission to purchase, acquire, and/or use the program.”
“I’m opposed to this legislation,” Safety Director Tim Hickman told council. “I’m opposed just on the concept of legislating policy and operation of a law enforcement system. I think that’ll create unnecessary burden on the law enforcement community.
“It’s going to hinder their ability to do their jobs. There are already policies and procedures in place that are actually pretty in depth, to operate these systems.”
City Councilman Jonathan Lang, R-5th Ward, said he wanted to put limits on the use of the data obtained from the cameras. He said his concerns were not about the police department, but the service provider.
"NPD has to come to council for other things -- expenditures, appropriations.," Lang said. "Given that funding relationship, I’d say it’s not inappropriate for us to specify parameters around any tool that we propose. We’re not telling police where and how to use the cameras.”
But the initial funding will come from a grant. The city's Department of Development announced Monday the police department has been approved for a state grant of $128,400 for purchase of the Flock Safety devices. The cameras cost $2,850 each for the first year and $2,500 per camera after that. Flock Safety had recommended 26 cameras for Newark.
Councilman Jeff Rath, R-3rd Ward, said, “The biggest concern about this whole system is not what the police department is doing with it, but what the private company that owns the system is doing with it.”
Doug Marmie, R-6th Ward, said, "My concern is the city of Newark could be put in a position a third-party vendor is selling our data. They have access to all this data. They (police) need this. We want this, but we want to protect that data. We’re trying to protect our citizens.”
Newark Police Chief Erik McKee said the department chose Flock Safety because it does not collect and sell the data.
The chief said the system doesnot include surveillance cameras or live-feed video cameras, but only takes a snapshot of movement passing by the camera. The photo focuses on the license plate and shows the rear of the vehicle.
"It is our intent to purchase as many Flock cameras as possible with the money awarded to fund the program for two years," McKee said. "The location of the cameras will be determined by the Division of Police and the camera system engineers who have expertise in that field to maximize their efficiency throughout the city. It will not be a secret where these are located. A main focal part of the program is deterrence.
“These are on a city street. Cameras pick up the rear of the vehicle on city streets. As much as people don’t like it, you have no expectation of privacy driving on a city street. Driving is a privilege, not a right.”
Newark Law Director Tricia Moore told council, “The city is the sole owner of the data collected. It is erased after 30 days unless the city wants to save it.”
The chief said Newark would be connected to other cities that have cameras and the National Crime Information Center's computerized index of criminal justice information. The system would help Newark catch those who frequently commit property and retail crimes, McKee said.
"As soon as a vehicle triggers one of these cameras-- that’s either the license plate or the vehicle description -- it sends an immediate notice to tell us a vehicle has just entered a specific area,” McKee said.
Heath and Hebron are installing the cameras, and Denison University also has cameras.
Heath Police Chief Dave Haren said installation of 10 cameras has already started, mostly around the perimeter of the city, at the entrances and exits. He said the cameras will not be used to issue citations for speeding or running a red light.
"It's great for Amber alerts," Haren said. "It's a great investigative tool when we're looking at catalytic converter thefts or a description on an hit-skip accident. It's got a multitude of applications. It's a big information sharing system" with other law enforcement agencies.
Hebron Mayor Jim Layton said the village plans to purchase Flock Safety cameras, which have been approved for Main and High streets, at each end of the village.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Flock crime cameras coming to Newark, Heath and Hebron