License plate reader cameras assist area law enforcement

Published 12:05 am Sunday, April 30, 2023

Deputies with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office used license plate reader software recently to apprehend a man who reportedly stole a car in Winston-Salem.

The software is provided by a company called Flock Safety, with clients around the country. The sheriff’s office uses 14 license plate reader cameras throughout Rowan County.

What are the cameras, though, and how do they work?

On Monday, Holly Beilin, Flock’s head of public relations, explained how the software and equipment identify vehicles associated with criminal activity.

“It’s a system of motion-activated, still cameras positioned on roadways,” Beilin said. “They capture the back of vehicles and the license plate.”

The software used on the cameras is called vehicle fingerprint and is patented by Flock.

“It helps identify and categorize vehicles by different attributes like color, make, type and things like distinguishing features such as a roof rack,” Beilin said. “The software on the cameras also compares the detected license plate to different state and national crime databases.”

Those databases include the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and the national Amber Alert database.

“If the plate is detected as being on one of those lists, law enforcement officers in the area get a real-time alert,” Beilin said. “They are able to see what the vehicle is wanted for if it is a stolen vehicle or associated with a missing person.”

If a car is not associated with any databases, Beilin indicated that the system wouldn’t flag the vehicle.

“That is the beauty of the system,” Beilin said. “If a vehicle passes that is not on one of those databases, which you can imagine is 99.9% of vehicles, the image is encrypted for security, saved in the cloud for 30 days, and then hard deleted … and that is for privacy protection.”

According to Beilin, concerns about personal data breaches are not warranted with Flock.

“Within the system itself, you cannot actually look up any personal information,” Beilin said. “All you can see is the license plate of the vehicle. It takes a separate motion for a detective or an officer to go from connecting that license plate to then having to go into the vehicle registration database to find out the vehicle’s owner. Within the Flock system, there is nothing including names or anything other than just the vehicle.”

Other municipalities in the area using the Flock system include Mooresville and Troutman. Winston-Salem and Charlotte also have the monitoring cameras.