Flock Safety Cameras

Newark Council Committee Debates Use Of Flock Safety Cameras

NEWARK − The Flock Safety cameras are either a crucial law enforcement tool that aids in the capture of criminals or a privacy invasion that gathers information on local travelers.

It depends on who you ask, either one, or both.

Various viewpoints were expressed during the Monday night debate in the Newark City Council Service Committee, but the committee ultimately voted 5-0 to allow the city to contract for the system and cameras with Flock Safety for a period of two years without holding a competitive bidding process.

The resolution will now be read twice by the full council before a potential vote on November. 14. To be installed in Newark, Flock Safety suggests 26 cameras.

The benefit of the cameras has already been proven locally, according to Tim Hickman, director of safety for Newark.

“Ironically, just this past weekend, the police department received a shots fired call and they had a description of the vehicle, but that was it,” Hickman said. “The Heath PD was contacted. Heath PD checked their Flock system and reported that a car had just passed through their area on (Ohio) 79 South. They later located both the car and the person. It was the shooter on 30th Street. There is actual evidence that it is effective.”

An automated license plate reader is used by the camera system to take pictures that are then processed through a national crime database. If a stolen car passes a camera, police can be notified right away.

A $128,400 state grant will be used as the system’s initial funding source. Each camera costs $2,850 the first year, and $2,500 the following year.

When the committee rejected legislation two weeks ago that would have placed restrictions on the installation and use of the system by the Newark Police Department, council members Beth Bline and Jonathan Lang expressed their concerns about the system, and councilman Doug Marmie also voiced his concerns.

Lang said, “I believe it’s crucial that we pause for a moment to consider whether monitoring our citizens in this way allows us to go back and look up their past movements is the direction we want to go as a community. I would strongly urge the committee to vote against this.”

Councilman Cheri Hottinger responded, “The places you’ve been won’t be recorded by them. Just the places where the cameras are. We won’t have cameras at every intersection in the city, but they are tracking you if you pass by a camera.”

Lang stated that he is concerned Flock might benefit from the information they gather from the Newark cameras.

“They’re not going to sell our data directly, but I do think the contract reads in such a way that they can take the data and create other commercial offerings that use that data and they will profit off of that,” Lang said.

It’s too late to stop the gathering and use of that kind of information, according to councilman Spencer Barker. He gave the Ohio Department of Transportation as an illustration.

“ODOT already does this,” Barker said. “Any citizen may use the traffic counts and cameras that are available. Where are the best locations for commercial traffic? is already a service offered by ODOT.’ in every municipality in Ohio, it has already begun.”

The city law director, Tricia Moore, stated that Flock will not be permitted to sell or use Newark’s data in any way that would identify Newark. According to her, the business will only use the information to enhance its own services and initiatives.

“They can’t sell agency data or aggregate data on Newark, Ohio, but they can use information made anonymous,” Moore said. “You won’t know where they got the information they use, though.”

The Flock Safety system database can also be searched for information about a vehicle’s general characteristics, such as its color, make, or model. The system can also search for additional identifiers like window decals, bumper stickers, or even front or rear racks, and it will return details like the time the subject vehicle passed the Flock camera.

Data will be retained by Newark for 30 days.

Bline said her constituents have told her they fear a loss of privacy and view it as government going too far,

“I received a lot of feedback from citizens on this and they have a lot of questions,” Bline said. “They experience it somewhat negatively. Many people believe that it is a dangerous slippery slope that will lead to government overreach and privacy invasion. The controls, in their opinion, are too lax.”

Members of the council who favor the cameras claimed that there is no expectation of privacy on public streets.

“There is a misconception of a right to privacy,” said councilman Jeff Rath. “Beyond your home, you have no right to privacy.”

Source: The Newark Advocate

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