Area police have license plate reader cameras as ‘safety net’ for communities

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

Editor’s note: This story by the Journal-News published in August 2022.

West Chester Twp. is among the growing number of Butler County police agencies to install license plate reader cameras to keep track of criminals entering and leaving the township.

The township trustees recently approved a two-year contract for $189,200 with Flock Group, Inc. for 32 fixed license plate reading devices and two portable cameras that may be moved to hot crime spots. Police Chief Joel Herzog said the crime stopping devices read rear license plates and alert police when a suspect vehicle enters or leaves the township, providing a “safety net” for the entire community.

He said it gives dispatch and patrol officers real-time alerts when wanted felons, stolen vehicles, amber alert license plates and other vehicles are in or exited the township.

“It doesn’t give us reason to stop the person because they have not committed any crime, like a protection order,” Herzog said. “But it does alert us that we need to do extra patrols, be aware this person is in the area — in case they’re up to no good.”

He used the example of a fatal hit and run accident on Muhlhauser Road in May when Miguel Gomez-Alvarez allegedly killed a Cincinnati woman. He was arrested and charged with multiple felonies, including aggravated vehicular homicide last month.

“The hit-skip we had on Muhlhauser Road, we would have instantly been able to get a license plate as that vehicle left the township,” Herzog said. “We would have gotten that and been able to follow up; we would have had the person in custody immediately instead of days go by.”

He said the American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on these devices and that is why the Flock Group positions the cameras to only capture license plates — they are not for facial recognition — and records are only retained for 30 days.

The cameras are best used in concert with other jurisdictions and the chief said communities all around the township already have them, such as Mason and Middletown, or are probably getting them, including Fairfield, Fairfield Twp., Monroe, Ross Twp. and Trenton.

Middletown recently received a $33,000 grant from the state that enabled it to up its camera program from 10 to 26 cameras. Police Chief David Birk recently told the Journal-News “it’s going to be a game changer for us” because various police agencies can track people and incidents that are in the Law Enforcement Data System (LEDS).

“Say another department such as Franklin puts a stolen car in, or a suspicious vehicle with a license plate, by coming through our city it red flags that,” Birk said. “Amber alerts, anything like that kind of stuff that’s put in LEDS, then we have the information and as soon as they cross over our city it immediately indicates to our officers this vehicle is in town.”

Butler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News they are not considering getting their own camera system but they can log in and access the system, “even though you don’t buy my stuff you can search it for crime purposes.”

“They can be very effective but it seems they’re more effective for cities with high crime areas where you can spot locate them where you know things are happening,” Dwyer said. “We’re so broad and wide countywide that’s it’s not as conducive.”

The sheriff has an outpost dedicated to Liberty Twp. and the trustees there pay for the service. Herzog mentioned it would be nice if cameras could be located in the neighboring township. Dwyer said they could consider that, but it would need to be a joint discussion with the trustees.

Trustee Ann Becker acknowledged the township’s biggest problem at the moment is thefts from cars, so this is a valuable tool.

“It’s our job to serve and protect the community and if we can save them $5,000 a piece — we lost a catalytic converter and it was $3,000 for us,” Becker said. “It’s $80,000 for all 65,000 of us; we’re all victims of crime at some point so I think it will be a great system.”

Trustee Mark Welch noted that much like security alert stickers on people’s houses serve as a deterrent, “a lot of times that’s enough for the guy to go next door, right, so hopefully it’ll have that effect.”

Herzog replied, “we’re all about displacement of crime out of West Chester, we can’t save the world but we can try to save West Chester.”

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