NewsCovering Colorado


License plate reading cameras coming to Pueblo

Pueblo Downtown Partnership hopes purchase will curb auto thefts
Downtown Pueblo Medium.jpeg
Posted at 11:17 PM, Nov 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-14 14:31:53-05

PUEBLO, Colorado — Pueblo is getting some new tools to try and combat a rise in car thefts. The Pueblo Downtown Association purchased two Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) cameras from a company named Flock Safety. The private business group is coordinating with the City of Pueblo and C-DOT to have them installed near busy intersections.

Holly Beilin, a Flock Safety Representative, explained that the cameras are motion activated. They take still images of vehicles and their license plates as they pass.

"They then have very highly calibrated software that compares those license plates to state and national crime databases, and then provides investigative evidence for the police if they're investigating a crime," Beilin explained.

She says Flock Safety cameras have helped bring down auto-thefts in other Colorado communities like the Denver suburb of Bow Mar.

"There have been quite a few stolen vehicle recoveries with Flock, as you can imagine, with a license plate reader, stolen vehicle recoveries are one very common crime that we help with," Beilin said.

The cameras can help with emergencies like hit-and-run crashes, Amber Alerts, and missing or endangered seniors.

"That may be true, but what does it do to the non-law breakers? That's where you have to draw the line," said Wayne Harlos, chair of the Colorado Libertarian Party.

News 5 reached out to Harlos for comment given his party's strong stance on protecting civil liberties.

"I have no problem with a private entity, be it an HOA or private company installing these on their own premises and protecting their own interests," Harlos said. "I do have a problem with the tax-payers being forced to fund something like this against citizens that haven't done anything wrong."

Flock Safety has around 100 customers in Colorado, the majority of which are homeowners associations and business districts. However, roughly 30 of their customers are law enforcement agencies.

Privacy concerns about this type of technology have reached the federal courts in Florida. Residents of Marco Island sued their police department in February after the city installed ALPR cameras on all three of the bridges used to access the island.

The plaintiffs claim the city violated their 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Lawyers for the City of Marco Island claim the plate readers do not constitute a "constitutional search," and they deny that the public has a "legitimate expectation of privacy" while on the road.

Court records from the case do not identify which company sold the ALPR cameras to the city. Beilin said the city is not a Flock Safety customer. If they were, she said their policies would render some claims in the lawsuit irrelevant.

One detail from the litigation that stood out to Harlos was the variety of "hotlist" activities identified by the Marco Island PD that would trigger police intervention.

A news release lists uninsured drivers, people with suspended licenses, those with open warrants, people on terrorist watch lists, and registered sex offenders among "hotlist" matches.

"Their intent was to look out for people who are behind on their child support payments, or people that may be suspected gang members. And that is frankly unconstitutional and violates all the citizens' 4th Amendment rights," Harlos said.

Beilin said Flock Safety takes additional measures to protect the privacy of drivers whose vehicles are recorded by their cameras.

"So, (ALPR) does capture pictures of every car and license plate. That is correct. What I will tell you though is there's no facial recognition involved and there's not the ability to capture pictures specifically of people," Beilin said.

"So, there's no searching based on things like gender or race or any sort of personally identifying information."

She explained that when law enforcement agencies access Flock Safety data, their inquiries are logged. The logs of terms and search operators are auditable.

"They can’t just indiscriminately search through footage from that day," she said. "They have to put in what they’re searching for and why they’re searching."

The images and license plate data collected by Flock Safety cameras are considered the personal property of the camera owner. Beilin said the company can't legally sell or share it with anonymous third-parties.

The images are stored in the cloud under heavy encryption and are purged from the server every 30 days.

This article was updated to include new information that Flock Safety was not the ALPR vendor for the City of Marco Island.

Watch KOAA News5 on your time, anytime with our free streaming app available for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Android TV. Just search KOAA News5, download and start watching.