Windsor Police to receive license plate-reading camera

Published 8:21 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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The Windsor Police Department is set to receive a camera that reads license plates, enhancing the department’s investigative capabilities.

The Windsor Town Council voted 5-0 on Aug. 8 to adopt a resolution appropriating the sum of $7,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act unappropriated fund balance of the general fund and approving a budget amendment for fiscal year 2024 for the acquisition of a Flock Safety Falcon Flex camera for the WPD.

Councilman Walter Bernacki was not present at the meeting.

In a memo to the mayor and Town Council that was found within the Aug. 8 council meeting packet, Town Manager William Saunders explained how the funding for the new camera became available.

“The commonwealth of Virginia has initiated a special Law Enforcement Grant from unspent ARPA funds,” he stated. “The town of Windsor qualifies for $153,000 for the purchase of appropriate equipment that can have the effect of suppressing violent crime in the community.”

He noted that the equipment purchase plan was submitted to the commonwealth by March 24, and a final approval of the plan was received May 11.

Saunders recommended that the purchase of the Flock Safety license plate-reading camera be made from unappropriated ARPA funds until such time as they are reimbursed by the grant.

At the Aug. 8 meeting, Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle shared some details with council members about the Flock camera and the Flock system it is a part of.

“Flock is in use throughout this jurisdiction and multiple other jurisdictions,” he said. “We have access to it now. Seven thousand dollars covers the mobile camera that we can mount anywhere that we control to read license plates. We can move it from location to location, so if we have things happen in one location or another, we can move it there. And the $7,000 covers the cost of the camera and two years on the Flock system.”

He emphasized that the Flock Safety Falcon Flex camera is an intelligence- and information-gathering piece of equipment.

“Is there a specific use?” Councilman Marlin W. Sharp said. “I understand it reads license plates, but is it like for speeding, or…”

“It reads license plates, that’s it,” Riddle replied. “It doesn’t issue speeding tickets, it doesn’t issue red light tickets, it doesn’t have anything to do with traffic enforcement. It’s a criminal intelligence tool.”

Saunders said, “Flock actually maintains the database that all the localities’ cameras feed into, so you have access to the whole database, so this would just be adding to the Flock database if it were put into use, when it’s put into use.”

Riddle said there are 50 Flock Safety cameras in Portsmouth, around 100 in Norfolk, around 100 in Virginia Beach, 60 or 70 in Chesapeake, and he said Flock Safety cameras are also in Newport News and Hampton.

“We’ve actually used them in other investigations here to recover several stolen vehicles stolen from this jurisdiction,” he said. “We recovered the cars in the city of Hampton and Newport News on Flock hits, seeing the cameras on the system. 

“You can go into the system, you can put a license plate in, you can flag the tag anytime it hits the camera in this system anywhere in the state,” he continued. “It’ll send you an alert, tell you where that tag just went through the camera at. It’s an outstanding, phenomenal piece of investigative equipment.”

Councilman David Adams asked how long the system retains the license plate data that it reads.

“By code, it’s 30 days,” Riddle said.

Adams hesitated briefly before voting “yes” along with his fellow council members to appropriate the funds for the camera.

In a Tuesday, Aug. 15, interview, Adams explained his brief hesitation and also why he ultimately voted “yes.”

“I want our police force to have the tools that they need in order to perform their duties as law enforcement officers,” he said. “I am not a fan of public entities collecting data for the sake of having it. One of my questions for the chief was how long the data was retained. The chief said it can legally only be held for 30 days. This answer was sufficient for my affirmative vote on the request for the camera, but I intend on working with the town manager and the rest of council to ensure a town policy governing the usage of this device is established.”