In a few months, something new will greet folks driving into Sandy Springs: a license plate reader camera.
A total of 99 new cameras will be placed around the entrances and main thoroughfares in the affluent city of 100,000 residents. The cameras scan license plates and alert police if vehicles are flagged as stolen or of interest in a criminal investigation.
“Through a hot list of stolen vehicles or stolen tags or information that we load in ourselves on suspect vehicles, the information will be put into the database, and if the tag passes anybody’s reader, we’ll get notifications,” said Deputy Chief Keith Zgonc with Sandy Springs police.
Zgonc said the city is still determining where the cameras will go and how the program’s success will be measured. But he said the City Council’s decision Tuesday to spend $500,000 a year on the cameras will help him and his officers make the city safer.
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Sandy Springs is joining other north Fulton County cities who have already made the license plate cameras a part of their crime-fighting tools.
Alpharetta signed a $67,000 annual contract in July to put the plate readers on power poles around the city. Milton in late October signed a deal with Atlanta-based license plate reader company Flock and Amazon-owned doorbell camera company Ring, allowing city police access to relevant resident data to solve crimes. After a heated debate centered on privacy, the Johns Creek City Council in September narrowly approved a deal with Flock and Ring.
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Although officials in cities throughout metro Atlanta and the country are weighing how cameras help police reduce crime versus the affects of a surveillance state, Zgonc said he hasn't heard any local concerns over privacy.
“I think people get a little more nervous about surveillance cameras than they do license plate readers,” he said. “... I think people are getting a little more used to hearing about the technology.”
According to a presentation given to the Sandy Springs City Council in mid-October, city police have made nearly 100 charges (two-thirds being felonies) and recovered six stolen vehicles since late June thanks to existing license plate cameras.
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He said there have been privately owned cameras in the city for nearly nine years. Flock spokesman Joshua Miller said their cameras are already in 21 Sandy Springs neighborhoods, but they don’t disclose the location or number of cameras for privacy reasons. He said their typical customer is a neighborhood or homeowners association.
Zgonc said Sandy Springs has been slow to get its own cameras for a pretty simple reason: “Nobody wants additional poles up on the street.”
That’s why he was intrigued in 2018 with Georgia Power’s program to the cameras from companies like Canada-based Genetec on existing power poles. Sandy Springs was ready to get 72 Genetec cameras, but they held off after the city found “Flock Safety had improved its technology and had begun specializing in law enforcement,” according to a city report.
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The report added that Flock was also attractive not only because it had “a significant footprint” in the city’s neighborhoods, but because Flock cameras are a third the price of Genetec’s devices. The city says Genetec’s more expensive power pole cameras will be placed on roads with faster speeds because they are better at reading vehicles going above 60 mph.
So the city settled on a mix, paying Flock $7,500 a month for 42 cameras and Genetec about $32,000 a month for 57 cameras.
“With the amount of cameras we’re putting in this year, if a stolen car enters the city, we’ll keep getting hits on that,” Zgonc said.
More on these cameras...