Glen Cove Police Chief William Whitton at department headquarters Thursday.

Glen Cove Police Chief William Whitton at department headquarters Thursday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

New license plate reading cameras paired with a cloud-based database are coming to Glen Cove to boost its police department's ability to identify and track vehicles suspected in crimes.

The Glen Cove City Council approved the contract with Atlanta-based Flock Group Inc., which uses the name Flock Safety for its products and services, at its meeting on Tuesday.

While license plate reading cameras are not new, the company touts a centralized database and artificial intelligence that can record details such as a vehicle’s color, make, bumper stickers, decals and racks. The company’s vast reach — it claims its cameras record 1 billion license plate captures each month across the United States — has raised privacy concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s just a good investigatory tool for us should we have a serious crime,” Glen Cove Police Chief William Whitton said. For example, if there was a robbery and police had a description of the vehicle and the approximate time of the incident, they could look for matches in the system, he said.

“If anything like that was populated in any of those cameras, we would then be able to see a picture of the vehicle along with the license plate,” Whitton said. “Then we would have to do good old-fashioned detective work to see if that car was actually involved.”

The motion-activated cameras can be mounted on poles and powered by a solar panel. The images and data they collect are transmitted using mobile phone technology. The city plans to install 10 cameras to monitor vehicles traveling in and out of the city, officials said.

Glen Cove joins other Long Island municipalities that have added license plate reading cameras in recent months, some using state grants.

The city is to pay Flock Group $53,500 under a two-year contract. The money will come out of the police department’s budget, Whitton said.

Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said the city council approved the service in response to a request from the police department.

“It’s going to be a tool and good resource for them to solve crime,” Panzenbeck said.

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized Flock Safety’s services in a report last year, calling it a “giant centralized government surveillance network” that could one day give law enforcement unprecedented information about the movements of “virtually any vehicle” in America.

“License plate readers indiscriminately collect billions of location records nationwide and threaten to expose New Yorkers’ daily lives to an entirely new level of police tracking and spying,” Daniel Schwarz, senior privacy and technology strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Thursday. “People don’t want to live in a surveillance state and New Yorkers deserve regulation over this increasingly dangerous technology.” 

According to the contract with Glen Cove, the company will delete collected data after 30 days, but police departments can download the data and store it. Flock Group can retain aggregate, anonymized data that it collects, according to the contract.

Panzenbeck said that in an age when most people carry cellphones that can take pictures and record video, “Our privacy is already invaded.”

Whitton said he was interested in Flock Safety’s services in part because other Long Island municipalities are also using them and because they can track vehicles that travel across municipal borders.

Old Westbury Police Chief Stuart Cameron, whose department is already using the service, said law enforcement agencies share license plate information with each other.

“In many cases, the people that are coming into the North Shore of Nassau County are victimizing residents across all of these communities,” Cameron said.

Flock Safety spokeswoman Holly Beilin said in an email that the company has more than 25 clients on Long Island, including homeowner associations, neighborhood associations and law enforcement agencies.

"Law enforcement agencies may elect to share access to their cameras to other agencies, although they are not required to and are not automatically enrolled in sharing," Beilin said. “HOAs do not have access to any cameras but their own, and they may grant their own local law enforcement agency access to those cameras if both opt in to that sharing.”

Property crimes in Glen Cove were up last year, with 133 reported, including eight motor vehicle thefts, in the first nine months compared with 94 property crimes for all of 2021, according to data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

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