Marietta wants to buy license plate readers after successful trial run

The Marietta Police Department plans to purchase 10 Flock Safety license plate reader cameras to install around the city.
The Marietta Police Department plans to purchase 10 Flock Safety license plate reader cameras to install around the city.

Roughly 18 months after installing a license plate reader in an area plagued with crime, the Marietta Police Department says the camera has contributed to a decrease in crime and helped police capture a suspect wanted on robbery and aggravated assault charges.

Five of these cameras have been placed around the city: One installed as a trial run by the Marietta Police Department and four purchased for use by the Gateway Marietta Community Improvement District within its boundaries.

The results of the trial run of the license plate reader used by Marietta police have propelled the department to buy more of the cameras made by Flock Safety. But police officials say not all of the crime reduction seen since the cameras were installed is a result of the new technology according to Marietta police spokesperson Chuck McPhilamy.

Crime rates dropped 34% between July 2018 to March of this year in the area of Bells Ferry Road at Williams Drive, the location where Marietta police installed the trial license plate reader. By comparison, McPhilamy said the department experienced a 12% drop in violent crimes across the city in 2018. The department couldn’t immediately provide data on how many crimes the cameras had helped them solve, however.

The system proved its worth to police in December 2018 when the trial camera helped police track down and arrest Landis Coulter, 26, who was wanted on robbery and aggravated assault charges.

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The cameras are solar-powered and installed on utility poles. They scan vehicle license plates as cars pass them, and officers are notified when a scanned plate is from a vehicle reported as stolen, or the plate itself has been stolen or if there’s a warrant out for a driver’s arrest. Police are also notified of the direction the vehicle is traveling, so “expect us to be pulling you over shortly thereafter,” McPhilamy said.

However, McPhilamy said the reader isn’t solely responsible for the dip in crime rates. As a whole, Marietta has seen a consistent drop in violent crime rates over the years, which McPhilamy said can also be attributed to the city cleaning up distressed and blighted areas.

“All of that as a combined package has led to a decrease in crime,” he said.

The Marietta Police Department will spend $20,000 in asset forfeiture funds — money confiscated in crime investigations — to purchase 10 additional Flock Safety license plate readers. McPhilamy said the location where these cameras will be installed has not been finalized.

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Data collected by the readers are stored in the cloud for 30 days, said Josh Thomas, head of marketing for Flock Safety. The company does not access the data or sell it to third parties, as it belongs to the customers and “they can use it to help police solve crime,” Thomas said.

The Flock Safety system can also be used by neighborhoods, businesses and other organizations. In a trial run of the license plate readers separate from the the police department, Gateway Marietta Community Improvement District purchased four readers to install along Franklin Gateway, a business and residential area located off South Marietta Parkway near I-75. Two are installed at the Gateway’s intersection with South Marietta Parkway and and another two are at Delk Road. Caroline Whaley, executive director of the CID, said the readers were installed in January.

“We found that these security cameras were effective, cost efficient, and met our criteria…in looking to capture activity coming in and out (of the CID),” she said.

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CID board members will conduct a review of the initiative with Marietta police to determine if they would like to install more readers around the Gateway.

McPhilamy added the department does not view the cameras as a magic bullet in crime fighting, but as ingenious devices that would help officers solve cases and find offenders hiding in plain sight.

“We’re hoping the public will embrace these cameras,” he said.

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