Growing Network of License Plate-Reading Cameras Helps Stop Crime

'Our crime is virtually non-existent now,' one neighborhood leader says

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A growing network of surveillance cameras is helping neighborhoods stop crime by scanning license plates and sending information about possible criminals to police in real time.

The Chisolm Ridge neighborhood in North Fort Worth installed the cameras from a company called Flock months ago.

"Our crime is virtually non-existent now,” neighborhood president Tony Perez said.

Chisolm Ridge bought 12 cameras – one for every entrance and exit.

The system is working wonders protecting the 1,200 homeowners, Perez said.

"The most recent has to do with three individuals who had entered Chisolm Ridge with a stolen vehicle,” Perez said. “That stolen vehicle alerted the police to come."

When officers arrived at 3 a.m., they spotted the men carrying backpacks, breaking into cars.

"They were all apprehended and the stolen vehicle recovered,” Perez said.

They're the same cameras the city of Fort Worth has been installing for more than a year.

Just last week, Fort Worth homicide detectives used information from a similar camera in another city to arrest a man they say stalked and killed 22-year-old Abigail Saldana. The suspect's license plate was recorded following her.

As a detective on the city's east side, Erik Lavigne tracks down stolen cars and stolen property.

"The Flock cameras to me are the next greatest thing since DNA testing,” Lavigne said.

He said officers use the Flock cameras to catch thieves every day.

"There's the football. Go get it,” Lavigne said. “The license plate hits. You wait for it to hit. A ding goes to your phone. You get what's called a 'hot list' sent to your phone and you just go chasing after the bad guy. It's great."

Police don't try to keep the weapon secret. They want the criminals to know and the cameras are in plain sight.

"You can see them,” Lavigne said. “If they know where they're at, I'm happy. I'm glad they know. Because guess what they're not going to be doing in that area. And the more cameras we get the less areas they're going to be doing that stuff."

Each camera costs $2,000 a year.

Perez said that's a bargain -- especially compared to hiring off-duty officers to patrol, which the neighborhood used to pay for.

"The biggest difference is we now have 24-hour coverage,” he said.

As for people concerned about privacy and creating a "surveillance state," the cameras only take pictures of license plates -- not drivers.

And police and neighborhood leaders say they limit access to the information to make sure it's used properly.

"It's just stored. We don't even know who's driving,” Perez said.

Lavigne said it just makes sense for police to use the latest technology.

"The best part of being a property crimes detective is giving people their stuff back,” he said. “Catching bad guys is great but I like giving people their things back."

Fort Worth has 107 city-owned Flock cameras and another 72 are owned by neighborhoods, apartment complexes and businesses.

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