West Hartford

New Camera Technology in West Hartford Raises Questions

The West Hartford Police Department is partnering with Flock Security to install license plate reading cameras for criminal investigations.

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West Hartford Police is upgrading technology they say will be used to solve and help reduce crime.

They plan to use cameras in 13 different locations. The Automated License Plate Reading cameras, or ALPR cameras, are used to capture license plate and car information to help officers with criminal investigations or Amber and Silver alerts.

Police Chief Vernon Riddick said the department has used similar camera technology since 2009. But now, they're trying a new product with a Georgia-based company known as Flock Safety to make their streets safer.

"Often times, what a detective will tell us is that a license plate is the most useful and also objective piece of evidence they need to solve a crime," said Flock Safety Spokesperson Holly Beilin.

Beilin said the ALPR cameras are motion censored. When a car drives by, the camera snaps a picture of the license plate, automatically compares that information with local and national databases, and alerts police of a potentially stolen car or if a car belongs to someone accused of a crime.

She says seven in 10 crimes are committed with a vehicle.

"We're not going to have cameras at stop signs, red lights, trying to get violators. This is an opportunity for silver alerts, amber alerts, robbery suspects," said Chief Riddick.

A mother of two, who was visiting from Philadelphia Wednesday, said she finds the technology beneficial for law enforcement, but said she is concerned about her privacy.

"I kind of feel as far as privacy and invading that, it's kind of iffy with that. So, kind of yes and no," said Darienne Robinson.

The ACLU of Connecticut is also questioning the product and its non-stop surveillance feature.

"People ought to think really hard about whether it's a good idea, whether or not the courts say it's permissible by the constitution, to hand their government the ability to tell where everybody in town has gone all day, every day, 24 hours a day," said ACLU's Legal Director Dan Barrett.

Barrett said voters should have a say in whether these cameras get installed in their communities. He's also concerned that the technology will alert police of one's registration or other personal information.

"It's almost like having the kind of data version of a non-stop recording of the comings and goings of people in West Hartford. Very quickly, you're going to give the government a lot of information. Probably a lot of information you didn't think of. So, it's dangerous," Barrett said.

Riddick assures the cameras are not pointed into cars, houses or businesses, nor is it intended to identify peoples' faces.

"I know there might be privacy concerns with folks, but no matter where you go, pretty much in any town, in any city in the United States, you're probably on camera somewhere."

-Chief Riddick

West Hartford Police has allocated $500,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act for its camera system town wide. Riddick said only a portion of this money is going toward these new cameras, which are still being tested and evaluated by the department.

Next month, after the 45-day trial period is up, West Hartford Police plan to look at the findings.

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