Plainfield police to test license plate readers to help solve and reduce crime

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PLAINFIELD, Ind. — Vehicles driving through Plainfield will pass by digital license plate readers, intended to help solve, reduce and deter crime, the Plainfield Police Department shared.

Plainfield police are the latest central Indiana agency to announce their partnership with Atlanta-based Flock Safety to install automated license plate reading (ALPR) cameras around Plainfield.

Right now, they are in the process of installing the remaining cameras, which will soon all be operational, for a 60-day trial. In total, 14 cameras will be installed around the city, placed strategically in certain areas.

How it works is, once a vehicle passes in front of a digital license plate reader, a photograph is taken, and it is automatically uploaded to cloud storage for computerized analysis. If a stolen car or wanted suspect from the national crime database passes by a camera, a real-time alert will be sent to Plainfield police.

“These cameras are not meant for traffic violations of any sort,” said Plainfield Police Department Deputy Chief, Joe Aldridge.

“This really would help us with our solvability rating in solving crime and keeping Plainfield safe,” he added.

The cameras don’t capture people or faces, they capture objective evidence, detecting only license plates and vehicle characteristics like make, model, and color.

Other agencies in central Indiana already utilizing the Flock Security system are the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Indiana State Police, the Greenwood Police Department, Greenfield Police Department, Noblesville Police Department, and several agencies in Hancock County, to name a few.

License plate readers are not a new piece of technology, but they’re new to Plainfield. Aldridge said these cameras will also alert officers if a vehicle associated with a missing person in an AMBER or Silver Alert is detected.

“The whole reason behind having this type of program is to bring peace to those families and closure,” said Aldridge. “A lot of people are entered in as a silver alert could drive hundreds of miles away from their home before they’re found and so this will help us and aid us in solving some of those.”

In Sept. 2020, a statewide AMBER Alert was activated after a pickup truck was stolen from the BP gas station on Hadley Road in Plainfield with an infant inside.

It was canceled when the truck was located on the southwest side of Indianapolis, with the baby still inside. Fortunately, she was unharmed, but police say having this technology could be beneficial in cases like this to help solve them quicker and bring families peace of mind.

Another area where central Indiana agencies have observed success in using this technology is in investigating stolen vehicles.

Aldridge said, “In the last two years, we’ve had 143 reported stolen vehicles in Plainfield and so those really could be solved a lot easier with equipment like this.”

Police believe it will also help in solving property crimes, many of which go unsolved due to a lack of information or only having a partial license plate, so police believe this could help on that front, too.

“This system is gonna help us tremendously and it’s one of those systems that’s been around for quite a while,” said Aldridge.

Gary Woodruff, Deputy Chief of the Lawrence Police Department said, “First came fingerprints, then the processing of DNA, body-worn cameras and their processing of evidence. The Flock camera system is a logical next step.”

Lawrence police have been using the technology for just under a year now, and Woodruff said they have reported great success with it. They currently have three cameras and are looking at the possibility of investing in more.

“They’ve solved a great many crimes for us,” he said. It’s been instrumental in some of our shooting cases and some of our recent violent crime incidents.”

An appeal factor is that the Flock Safety system creates a network between police agencies, where multiple agencies can be alerted if a suspect wanted in one community is picked up on another community’s license plate reader.

“It helps solve crimes. The criminals don’t stay in their own towns or cities. They do cross jurisdictional boundaries,” said Aldridge.

“The same crime vehicles that are occurring in Lawrence, are the same ones that are being used in Indianapolis, Plainfield, and throughout Central Indiana,” said Woodruff. “One of the most effective ways of resolving crime through our communities is you have to collect all the dots before you can connect the dots.”

Although this piece of technology provides what is essentially a lead for police, it could be the first step in solving a crime or locating a vehicle associated with a missing person.

“Once a crime vehicle is identified, it’s terrific that you can track that vehicle and where it goes to that leads to additional solved crimes,” said Woodruff.

Greenfield police shared that their agency has had success with the program since it began using Flock Safety at the end of April.

Earlier this summer, the department told CBS4, in two months, it helped solve several cases and save a life.

The department was able to recover five stolen vehicles and locate a missing person, police said.

Additionally, the camera system assisted officers in locating a suicidal person and helping them get help before they were able to harm themselves.

According to police, the department was given information on a man in a vehicle that was threatening to take his own life. The caller was able to provide dispatch the vehicle description, plate number, and approximate location, and said they knew the man was near a park, but that they were not familiar with Greenfield.

Police said officers searched the Flock system and received a hit on the license plate from a camera located about half a mile from Riley Park. A responding officer located the man in his car at the back of the park before he was transported to an area hospital for treatment.

“Had it not been for the Flock camera and the officer’s quick response the outcome for this man and his family could have been much different,” said Greenfield Police Department Captain J.D. Fortner.

The storage of data and the ability to share are a concern for people who worry about privacy issues with the system. Aldridge said those traveling through Plainfield can rest assured of the information.

Although data is stored for 30 days, it will be deleted at that time and police said each search, when an alert is not automatically generated and sent to police, requires justification. Police also said no data will be sold or shared with third parties.

These cameras are currently in more than 1,200 cities across the U.S. and the company works with more than 1,000 police departments, said Plainfield police. They also shared the technology has been shown to reduce crime by up to 70%.

Right now, police are piloting the program at no cost. To continue it, it will cost at least $27,000 if they continue with at least 12 cameras. After the trial ends, the department will decide whether to keep the number of cameras it is using or add or scale back.

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