Troy approves license plate-reading cameras

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published March 22, 2023

 The Troy Police Department will begin to install Flock cameras throughout Troy to detect and photograph vehicle license plates and alert investigators about suspect vehicles entering the city.

The Troy Police Department will begin to install Flock cameras throughout Troy to detect and photograph vehicle license plates and alert investigators about suspect vehicles entering the city.

Photo provided by the Troy Police Department


TROY — The Troy City Council unanimously approved a request from the Police Department to purchase several ALPR Flock System cameras, which will be placed throughout the city later this year, at its meeting March 13.

Such cameras are designed to photograph the license plates and other defining qualities of passing vehicles, store the photos electronically, and alert the authorities to vehicles connected to criminal investigations.

“ALPR technology stands for ‘automated license plate reader.’ Basically, it’s a small camera which is either AC powered or solar powered — and most of ours would be solar,” said Police Chief Frank Nastasi. “We are recommending 23 cameras placed throughout the city for maximum coverage and two mobile cameras which can address crime trends. Let’s say that mail in a neighborhood is getting stolen. We would place one of those two cameras there.”

A purchasing agreement and bid waiver were approved by the City Council. The cameras will cost approximately $2,500 per camera per year. That cost includes the camera, the software, data storage and maintenance.

“They really are a game changer. A lot of our recent successes we’ve talked about on social media are because other cities have this technology. It will immediately give our investigators an efficient tool to protect our residents,” Nastasi said. “The platform allows agencies to share camera data, particularly (in regard to) our hotlist. The hotlist includes things like stolen cars, felony crimes, kidnappings, Amber Alerts and things of that nature. One of the reasons we are asking for this measure is because we want to be on the same platform as all of our neighbors.”

Nastasi said that, although there can be some variables in attaining the proper permits and training new officers, the new system is expected to be installed and active within three months.

“It gets the vehicle’s plates, make, color, when it went by the camera and how many times it went by. It also can differentiate features, such as if a witness said a vehicle had a roof rack on the car or a sticker on the bumper. It can hone in on that vehicle,” he said. “It works in both day and nighttime conditions.”

Other local cities are already using the Flock system, including Detroit, Madison Heights, Sterling Heights, Warren and Farmington Hills. Local sheriff’s departments such as Oakland and Macomb are also using it.

“There are real-time alerts if a stolen vehicle is detected or if a vehicle in a kidnapping or Amber Alert situation is identified entering Troy,” Nastasi explained. “Our investigative units are already using this data (from other departments) to help catch career criminals and organized groups of criminals. … We had in-car cameras installed in 2022. They have integrated Flock ALPR functionality. That was activated this last November, and it has already helped us recover numerous stolen vehicles.”

The chief added that equally important to what the system does do is making it clear to the public what it doesn’t do in order to alleviate fears of constant surveillance.

“It’s indiscriminate evidence from fixed locations. There’s no people (recorded), no facial recognition, no video, no traffic enforcement, no expired plates, no red lights, no speeding,” Nastasi said. “The data is only held for 30 days before it is wiped. There’s no video data, only pictures. The data is owned by the Troy Police Department and it is not sold to any third-party vendors — nor does Flock Safety sell any information. It goes straight to the cloud once an image is taken. Law enforcement officers must have an official purpose to access any stored data. When they do access the data, they also have to verify it. If a stolen car comes up, for instance, we have to verify that it is still stolen and hasn’t been recovered but accidently not removed from the list.”

“There could be some who think ‘it’s a camera’ or that these are speed traps or it’s a ploy to hit quotas for traffic tickets, but the reality is that this is a game-changer,” said Councilwoman Edna Abrahim. “It doesn’t just keep our residents safe; it keeps our police officers safe. This ensures that (the Police Department) knows where the bad guys are before they realize you know. (The police) can act in a more planned and more controlled manner. To me, it’s a no-brainer in terms of support.”

“I appreciate that (the Police Department) is already thinking of the community and how (they) are trying to get ahead of concerns and communicate to the public about this system,” added Councilwoman Rebecca Chamberlain Creanga.

Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek said she believes that the Flock system will help alleviate several recent problems in Troy, such as mail theft and catalytic converter thefts.

“I am very happy to hear the term ‘proactive policing.’ … A number of our residents are demanding exactly that, often without knowing that’s the term for it,” she said. “Whether they are talking about the mailbox thefts, what’s happening with cars and whatnot. Bad guys know no borders, and they come into our city to commit crimes, and I like that we are seeing connectivity to our fellow cities.”

Nastasi agreed that utilizing this system in Troy could mean breakthroughs in several areas of police work.

“They can act as a deterrent. Institutions such as homeowners associations, hotels, motels and other private properties can install their own systems if they purchase them. We don’t share information. Our data is for law enforcement only,” he said “Data shows a vehicle is used seven out of 10 times during the commission of a crime. This new system will allow us to utilize that to our advantage.”