SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Springfield Police Department (SPD) is currently testing a new way to catch criminals around the city via specialized license plate scanning technology.
According to SPD Captain Eric Reece, the cameras do not record any footage of individuals and are only able to scan license plates. Additionally, the cameras will not be used to capture traffic violations, speeding or any other minor offenses – only those who have committed major crimes.
Reece said the cameras are searching for specific plate numbers that are of interest to law enforcement, and that plates are not stored or saved in any databases if they are not linked to a crime.
The solar powered cameras run off of cell signals and are mounted on poles around Springfield. As cars drive by, their license plates are scanned and sent directly to the National Crime Information Center’s database, Missouri law enforcement’s MULES database and SPD’s own database.
The systems particularly help locate persons of major interest for serious crimes such as grand theft, outstanding warrants or kidnapping. Custom hot lists are made in order to quickly locate vehicles that they have been searching for.
The department is not receiving much pushback from the public, since Flock cameras are solely focused on catching criminals, as opposed to the criticized stoplight cameras that were once used in Springfield.
Reece said the biggest issue with the Flock cameras is the annual cost, but there are other companies with similar technology that may be more affordable. According to Reece, if the security system continues to perform well, Chief Paul F. Williams may request funding for more cameras from the Springfield City Council.
“We’re able to use this to help solve crimes and locate people, especially at a time when the department has such a manpower shortage,” Reece said. “These [cameras] kind of help us maintain services with less people.”
To curb the rise of crime in residential areas, entire neighborhoods in Springfield also are beginning to install their own Flock cameras.
“The way this works, which is a benefit to police departments, is that we can gain access to the neighborhood’s cameras but they are not in turn allowed to see ours,” Reece said. “For instance, Ravenwood here in Springfield has a few cameras and we can see those. It kind of acts like a force multiplier for us. So if that camera picks up a stolen vehicle, we will get a hit on it. But it doesn’t work in reverse. They don’t get access to our data, but we do get access to theirs.”
Most of SPD’s Flock cameras have been up for two months. As the testing phase for the system continues, citizens of Springfield can expect an update from SPD soon as to whether they will expand the camera system citywide.