License plate cameras are coming to Pueblo

PUEBLO, Colorado — Pueblo is getting some new tools to try to combat a spike in auto theft. The Pueblo Downtown Association purchased two Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) cameras from a company called Flock Safety. The private group is coordinating with the City of Pueblo and C-DOT to have them installed near busy intersections.

Holly Beilin, a Flock security officer, explained that the cameras are motion-activated. They take still pictures of passing vehicles and their license plates.

“They then have very highly calibrated software that checks those license plates against state and national crime databases and then provides investigative evidence to police when they’re investigating a crime,” Beilin said.

She says Flock security cameras have helped fight auto theft in other Colorado communities like the Denver suburb of Bow Mar.

“As you can imagine, there have been a number of stolen vehicle recoveries with Flock. As you can imagine, recovering stolen vehicles with a license plate reader is a very common crime that we help with,” Beilin said.

The cameras can help with emergencies such as hit-and-run, amber alerts, and missing or vulnerable seniors.

“That may be true, but what of the non-lawbreakers? You have to draw the line there,” said Wayne Harlos, chair of the Colorado Libertarian Party.

news 5 He asked Harlos for comment given his party’s strong stance on protecting civil liberties.

“I have no problem with a private entity, whether it be an HOA or a private company, installing these on their own premises and protecting their own interests,” Harlos said. “I have a problem with taxpayers being forced to fund this against citizens who have done nothing wrong.”

Flock Safety has approximately 100 customers in Colorado, most of which are homeowners associations and business districts. However, around 30 of their clients are law enforcement agencies.

Privacy concerns about this technology have reached the federal courts in Florida. Marco Island residents sued their police department in February after the city installed ALPR cameras on all three bridges used to access the island.

Plaintiffs allege that the city violated its 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Attorneys for the city of Marco Island claim the license plate readers do not constitute a “constitutional search” and they deny the public has a “legitimate expectation of privacy” while on the move.

Court filings from the case do not show which company sold the ALPR cameras to the city. One detail that caught Harlos’ attention, however, was the multitude of “hotlist” activities that police said would trigger an intervention.

A press release lists uninsured drivers, those with suspended driver’s licenses, those with outstanding arrest warrants, those on terrorist watch lists and registered sex offenders under “hot list” matches.

“Their intent was to be on the lookout for anyone who might be in arrears on their child support payments or anyone who might be suspected gang members. And that, frankly, is unconstitutional and violates every Fourth Amendment right of a citizen,” Harlos said.

According to Beilin, Flock Safety is taking additional measures to protect the privacy of drivers whose vehicles are being recorded by their cameras.

“So, (ALPR) takes pictures of every car and license plate. That’s right. However, what I will tell you is that there is no facial recognition and there is no ability to take pictures specifically of people,” Beilin said.

“So there’s no searching for things like gender or race or any personally identifiable information.”

She explained that when law enforcement accesses data from Flock Safety, her requests are logged. The logs of terms and search operators are auditable.

“You can’t just randomly browse through footage from that day,” she said. “They must specify what they are looking for and why they are looking.”

The images and license plate data captured by Flock Safety cameras are considered the personal property of the camera owner. Beilin said the company cannot legally sell it or share it with anonymous third parties.

The images are stored in the cloud with strong encryption and deleted from the server every 30 days.

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