More Houston-area police departments adopting license plate cameras to fight crime

Shannon Ryan Image
Thursday, April 20, 2023
Police departments adopting license plate cameras to fight crime
More police departments are adopting license plate cameras after the system helped arrest a man suspected of two robberies.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston police said Flock cameras helped them capture a man suspected of robbing two people at gunpoint on April 12.

Just after midnight, police said two masked men robbed a DoorDash driver at 2201 Hayes Rd. They pistol-whipped him and took his car and wallet. Police believe the men then used the vehicle to rob another woman, Norma Johnson, at gunpoint on 9445 Concourse Drive about an hour later. They took her wallet.

"I got really sick that night. I couldn't really make it to work," Johnson told ABC13.

Later that day, police used Flock cameras to locate two men inside the stolen vehicle on 11600 Briar Forest Dr. The men sped off when police tried to stop them, eventually crashing into another car at Westheimer and Hayes Road, then running. Police believe they arrested one of the men, 20-year-old David Koroma.

The cameras utilized by Houston police are just a few of about 3,000 in the greater Houston area, according to ABC13's partner, the Houston Chronicle.

The Memorial Villages Police Department was one of the first agencies in the area to roll the system out. It uses elevated cameras to snap still images of license plates.

The department's chief of police Ray Schultz said the cameras have been "a game changer."

In March, Schultz said Flock cameras in the 7.5-square-mile Memorial Villages area read 4.2 million license plates. If a camera captures a flagged plate - meaning it has been entered into a statewide or nationwide database, like National Crime Information Center (NCIC), it is sent to dispatch for verification. If it passes muster, officers are sent out to intercept the vehicle.

SEE ALSO: License plate theft in Houston on the rise after statewide changes, police say

"So far this year, (the department has) recovered six stolen cars through the end of March. But, last year, we had 74. The year before, we had 75. The year before that, 61, and in 2019, when we started the project in three months, we recovered 22. Before we had ALPR (automatic license plate reader) technology, we averaged three stolen cars a year," Schultz said.

Still, not everyone supports the cameras. The ACLU, which declined an interview, has widely condemned them, citing privacy concerns.

ABC13 asked Flock spokesperson Holly Beilin about privacy concerns. She said images not being used in an investigation are deleted after 30 days.

"We offer a really robust auditing measure so that chiefs of police or city council members can understand what officers are using the technology for," Beilin said.

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