Fla. law enforcement agencies report LPRs solve crimes, save lives
In an analysis of automated license plate readers, researchers revealed that the tech helps solve more than 700,000 crimes each year — or 10% of reported crime nationwide
By Jennifer Torres
SEBASTIAN, Fla. — Investigating a case of credit card fraud at a local Walgreens last month, video footage provided police in Sebastian, Florida, with a visual of the suspect — but no identity.
However, as the suspect exited the store, she left in a critical clue — a distinctive white Audi sedan — and with the power of license plate recognition cameras located throughout the city, the suspect was quickly identified and apprehended.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, more than 70% of crimes in the U.S. involve a vehicle — and that’s often all that’s needed to identify a suspect.
Nestled between Vero Beach and Melbourne along Indian River Lagoon, the Sebastian Police Department installed its first Flock Safety Falcon cameras in September 2021 — and it now have 97 cameras placed around the city.
No license plate required
In addition to capturing every license plate that passes, these solar powered cameras employ machine learning technology and result in highly accurate, clear images day or night that can identify vehicles by make, model, color and any decals or defects it may have.
The data is uploaded, along with the time, date and GPS coordinates, to a searchable network of local, state and national databases — including the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database. This allows police to receive alerts about missing people, stolen vehicles or license plates, wanted suspects and more — in real time, and all footage is deleted after 30 days.
“They allow us to get advanced notice of flagged vehicles as they enter our county. This gives deputies valuable time to monitor, plan and take enforcement action when warranted,” Sebastian police Sgt. Kevin Jaworski said. “The LPR cameras not only are used to locate and solve crimes but also aid in the recovery of missing and endangered people.”
Cameras aid law enforcement agencies in crime prevention
Atlanta-based Flock Safety currently works with more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies across the country — it’s one of several national companies that law enforcement agencies use to provide license plate recognition cameras in their community.
The Chamblee Police Department in Georgia implemented the Flock Falcon system in 2019 and says it’s assisted them with several arrests — including the kidnapping of infant.
After receiving an alert that an infant was taken at gunpoint, officer Rick Barber used specific information about the vehicle provided by officers on the scene to conduct a search.
“Some of the things I look on vehicles are certain features of it such as a trailer hitch, sunroof, wind deflector, luggage racks, step boards, no step boards,” Barber said. “That’s how I can fingerprint a vehicle.”
Flock provided a heat map of where the vehicle tag had been read over a 30-day period, so police were able to determine its likely location and apprehend the perpetrator.
“If we didn’t have Flock license plate readers, that would have been a huge investigation that would have taken an army,” Chamblee’s Assistant Police Chief Mike Beller said. “I’ll never forget just how proud everybody involved was, that we were able to return this baby to his parents in less than five hours.”
License plate readers across Florida
Sheriff Eric Flowers in Indian River County, Florida, signed a contract with Flock in July 2021 to install its Flock Falcon license plate readers across the county. Addressing the Indian River County Board of County Commissioners in December, Flowers said, within the first three months, with just 20 units in place, the cameras led to the recovery of six stolen vehicles and four stolen license plates. Further, two grand thefts were solved and a kidnapping was thwarted.
“We had a missing persons case out of Illinois, it was a custodial kidnapping case, and we were able to recover some children that were missing out in Illinois as a result of this technology,” Flowers said. “The purpose of this is when we have that person who is listed as a Silver Alert, when we had that person that’s listed as a Blue Alert in the case of law enforcement, and Amber Alert in the case of a missing child — if we’ve got somebody who’s a dangerous felon that’s on the loose, we’re going to get notified the second that they cross paths with one of these cameras.”
John Walsh, who created and hosted “America’s Most Wanted” following the murder of his son, Adam, in 1981 — is a resident of Indian River County and also addressed the commission that day, commending Flowers for using technology to fight crime and heralding the cameras ability to find missing children, stop criminals and save the lives of police officers.
“These plate readers can alert a deputy out on the road who may be pulling over a car, not knowing who’s in there,” Walsh said. “But a plate reader and a camera combined, will flash into the car and say, wait, these two guys just murdered someone at a 7-Eleven, and that’s a stolen car.”
In Florida’s Manatee County, Sheriff Rick Wells is using another of Flock’s products as part of his investigation arsenal — Flock’s Raven system — an audio event detection device that triggers real time alerts for gunshots.
Studies have found, that on average, just 12% of shootings are reported to 911.
“We have a right to feel safe. Our primary goal is to protect our citizens. We will arrest those doing the shootings,” Wells wrote in a Facebook post. “With this technology, we can now get there within seconds. It’s helping us get to victims faster and solve these cases.”
Florida’s law enforcement tech triumphs in 2024
This year alone, law enforcement agencies across Florida have documented several cases where the technology not only solved crimes — but saved lives.
After receiving 911 calls about gunfire, on Feb. 4, a Raven device alerted Lake City Police that gunfire had been detected in a specific area. Police responded, found a victim in need of assistance who identified the suspects and arrests were made the same day.
On Jan. 29, the Port Orange Police Department received an alert from their Flock Falcon that a vehicle associated with a wanted individual had been detected nearby. Officers located the vehicle at a gas station, and the suspect was apprehended. Officers later discovered that he had multiple warrants out of St. Lucie and Dixie counties for violations of sexual offender probation.
Flock Falcon cameras alerted the Clay County Sheriff’s Office on Jan 12, that a vehicle associated with a missing and endangered woman had been detected in the area. Deputies responded, located the vehicle and transported the woman to a hospital.
In an analysis of automated license plate readers, researchers at Texas Christian University and the University of Texas at Tyler revealed that the tech helps solve more than 700,000 crimes each year — or 10% of reported crime nationwide.