How Do Police Investigate Crime in 2024? The Secret Truth About Flock Cameras

Posted by Megan GroutFeb 24, 20240 Comments

How Police Investigate Crime

How Police Investigate Crime in 2024:

The "Secret" Truth About Flock Cameras

     They're hidden in plain sight and you probably drive by them all time without realizing it. Flock surveillance cameras are so much more than just license plate readers. Did you know these cameras are watching all of us 24/7? They can easily track your movements all around town. They help solve thousands of crimes every day.  And some police departments don't want to reveal where they all are.

     First, what are Flock cameras? Flock is the name of the brand of camera and it is the industry leader in this kind of surveillance. Flock cameras originated in Georgia but their popularity has spread across the country and have become an essential tool for crime solving. A Flock camera is basically a camera at the side of the road (but not always at the side of the road) that is powered by a solar panel. You may have noticed them but most people don't even realize they are there. They come in different shapes and sizes but here's an example of one:

Surveillance Camera
Flock Camera

     You may know that there are license plate readers set up all around most cities, but these Flock cameras are different. They are special because of what they record, combined with the software that they use. The camera takes pictures of the back of each car that drives by them, both night and day. Why is that important? Because the Flock software is able to catalogue not only the license plate, but also the make and model of the car and the color. It can also note distinguishing characteristics like bumper stickers or roof racks. And this information can be shared nationally through a nationwide database that is updated multiple times a day. 

     Flock reports that these cameras help solve 10% of all crimes. They estimate 700,000 crimes a year are solved with the help of a Flock camera. How? First, they can put in a license plate number that they are looking for and wait for Flock to give them a hit on it if it is seen. When the car then drives by a Flock camera, Flock can provide the police with a real time notice of where the car just was. This allows them to flood a particular area with police presence to try to find the car.  Additionally, after a crime is committed, if the license plate of a car is known (either due to a witness or if the police know the plate number of a suspect they are seeking) the police can also search prior Flock data to see where the car was been recently seen or what direction it may have gone after the crime. And remember, thanks to national databases, the police now have the ability to search both locally and in other states as well. So, if a suspect takes their car and flees the state, the police may still be able to track them. 

     Where Flock has become especially helpful is with crimes where a witness has seen a car and can describe it, but doesn't have a license plate. You can imagine that this is very a common scenario. Now, thanks to Flock, police are able to review data from Flock cameras near the scene to see if a car similar to what witnesses saw drove by a camera. They can then review pictures of those cars and see the license plates and what direction they headed. If there are multiple Flock cameras available, they may be able to pin down the route the car drove. This can give them a huge step forward in their investigation.

     It becomes even more helpful in some scenarios where there were no witnesses at all. Imagine someone is shot in an apartment complex at 3:00 in the morning. People hear gunshots and call the police but no one actually sees anything. The police can search nearby Flock cameras to see what cars drove by around the time of the crime. At 3:00 in the morning, there are only a few cars on the road so this may give the police a huge lead in who suspects are. In my practice, I have seen Flock cameras pin down a suspect almost immediately following a scenario similar to this one. 

     Why is Flock a so-called "secret"? It's not that the existence of the cameras is a secret, since we can usually see them when we drive by them. However, some police departments don't let communities know they are in use and are not willing to provide maps that reveal where all the cameras are. And, they are adding new ones all the time. For some people, the police refusing to be transparent about these cameras is concerning. It's also important to know that Flock cameras are not just on roads. They can be installed by private businesses and apartment complexes, to help control crime. While the businesses don't necessarily have to link their cameras to police databases, many agree to do so. This is not considered an invasion of privacy since you don't have an expectation of privacy on a road or in a parking lot, nor is the exterior of your car private information.

     It is obvious that in the wrong hands, access to these Flock cameras can lead to abuse. For example, what if  Flock cameras were aimed at a synagogue and recorded everyone who went there for services? In the wrong hands, that information could be very dangerous for the people who attended those services. Or what if the police had a camera that recorded everyone who pulled into an abortion clinic? For these reasons, the ACLU and some communities have pushed back against the idea of these cameras being installed everywhere. Some people in neighborhoods like the idea of having a camera at their entrances to help solve crimes, but other residents are understandably concerned about having all their movements recorded. 

     The use of these cameras has spread like wildfire across the country. And the technology continues to improve. What if Flock begins to use facial recognition software as well? What if in future years the police can capture photos of everyone who walked into a political rally and were able to get a printed list of each person the software recognized?  For many, this trend is eroding the very liberties on which our founding fathers sought to protect.

It is an issue worth watching. And you can start by paying attention to what cameras you see when you are driving. You might be surprised to see there are so many more watching you than you realized.