HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The Hamilton Township Police Department has purchased and installed 20 automatic license plate reading cameras from Flock Safety. The cameras, which are stationary around the township, capture photos of cars, including their license plates, that pass by.
“Flock is actually able to capture an image of a vehicle as opposed to just a license plate,” explained police chief Scott Hughes. “They also alert us to information. If someone has an Amber Alert or a Silver Alert, we will be notified when that vehicle drives past that camera. Same holds true if it’s a stolen vehicle, stolen license plate."
Hughes said the cameras will not be used to go after parking tickets, minor infractions or to track people.
“There’s no facial recognition, these are not traffic enforcement cameras, these are not speed cameras, these are not red-light cameras,” said Hughes.
According to Flock Safety, 109 communities in Ohio and 81 law enforcement agencies already deploy the technology.
A spokesperson for Flock said the cameras were successfully used to identify a suspect in the 2021 murder of off-duty Cleveland Police Office Shane Bartek.
Hughes said having the cameras throughout the community is like having more officers on the street.
“These cameras are basically doing the exact same thing as the officer would be doing sitting there. But, in some ways for us it’s like having 20 more police officers out on patrol,” he said.
Still, there are some concerns that the cameras could lead to over-policing or over-surveilling certain people in the township.
“It really doesn’t take that much time or imagination, where you’ve got the entire city covered. No matter where they go, peoples’ license plates can be surveilled throughout there,” said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio. “Many times (departments) will target communities of color, communities of poverty, or the two combined. What we don’t want to see as well, is not only everybody being surveilled, but where we have the cameras being used with regard to particular communities unfairly.”
Daniels said the organization would like to see policy legislated at either the state or local level to regulate how the cameras are used and how the collected data is stored, distributed or used. He also believes community buy-in is important for this technology to be successfully implemented.
“We don’t want people afraid to go out of their houses; we don’t want people afraid to travel throughout their cities,” he said.
Hughes said internally, there is policy in place on how the cameras and the data can be accessed and used.
“For example, you can only access this system if you are investigating a crime. That’s spelled out. Whenever an officer or an investigator goes into a system, they have to put in why they’re going into this system,” said the Chief. “There is a 30 day window where this information is maintained and then it’s gone. Once that 30 day window is expired, that data is gone.”