The Tulsa Police Department has identified three parts of the city where it plans to initially use license plate reader cameras, with installation of the equipment expected to be completed in early July.
The neighborhoods are 61st Street and Peoria Avenue in South Tulsa; along East Virgin Street and adjacent North Tulsa neighborhoods; and approximately 21st Street and Garnett Road to 41st Street and Garnett Road in east Tulsa.
“We found the three neighborhoods in the city that have the most chronic violent crime,” said Capt. Jacob Johnston, who oversees the program.
The police department announced earlier this year that it is partnering with the National Police Institute and Axon on a study of the effectiveness of license plate reader technology.
As part of the program, Flock Safety provided the TPD with 25 cameras free of charge. The company also installs the cameras for free. If the police department decides to continue using the technology after the one-year pilot program ends, it will cost $2,500 per camera per year with a one-time installation fee of $250 for each camera.
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Johnston said that before the camera system goes live, he will meet with officers to train them on how to use the equipment.
“Thus, no one will be able to access the Flock Safety software without receiving the proper training on how to use the system,” he said. “And everyone signs the policy and knows they’ll be held accountable if they use it in a way that’s contrary to what our policy says.”
Johnston said the police department, in consultation with its divisional commanders, tracked crime data to come up with camera placement strategies that worked best for each area.
At the intersection of 61st and Peoria, for example, there will be no cameras.
“But the cameras are deployed in a way that you can’t leave the area in a general sense and not pass one,” Johnston said.
North Tulsa cameras, on the other hand, will be in a more concentrated geographic area to capture vehicular traffic in and around Seminole Hills Apartments, an area of repeated violent crime, Johnston said.
The cameras that will be installed in East Tulsa will be more dispersed than those in North Tulsa, Johnston said, but the goal is the same: to identify vehicles entering and exiting apartment complexes where violent crime rates are high.
“Part of that (initial camera rollout) is doing a bit of research on their success,” he said. “As a ministry, we don’t want to have a one-size-fits-all approach, because if it doesn’t work, we don’t want to keep it that way.
“One thing that I love about a lot of these Flock security cameras and any other type of camera system, you can move around in such numbers; you can move around.
The solar-powered cameras, which aren’t quite the size of a football but “kinda similar in shape,” will be mounted atop 12-foot black poles, Johnston said.
Flock Safety license plate readers will eventually be integrated into the police department’s real-time information center, but the technology is different from the live-streaming cameras that will be at the heart of the RTIC.
License plate readers are motion-activated cameras that take still images. The images provide law enforcement with license plate information as well as vehicle identifying features, such as make, model, color and any distinguishing features.
This information is automatically transmitted to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which sends a notification to the police if the vehicle has been identified as stolen or used in a crime. The technology is also used to assist police during Amber and Silver Alerts.
Flock system cameras do not track a vehicle’s speed and will not be used to enforce traffic laws, Johnston said. Officers are also not allowed to use the NCIC alert as the sole probable cause to stop a car.
“It doesn’t do any person recognition, no facial recognition,” Johnston said. “He does not alert us if there is a person passing. … It does not capture and save this image. He’s looking for license plates.
The city’s real-time information center is expected to open at City Hall by the middle of next year. It will serve as a hub for a team of at least 18 people – officers and civilians – to monitor live video from cameras across the city in real time.
The recently approved budget for fiscal year 2023 includes $2.55 million to create the facility, with additional funding for staff. Initially, the RTIC should have up to 50 cameras that will pan, tilt, and zoom.
“They’re going to be more consistent with what you would see as an outdoor surveillance camera,” Johnston said.
Mayor GT Bynum and Police Chief Wendell Franklin said the city is behind in using video technology to solve crimes. They also pointed to its importance as a “force multiplier” at a time when the police department lost more than 100 officers from its authorized strength.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office has entered into its own agreement to participate in the License Plate Reader Pilot Program. Its Flock security cameras will be installed in unincorporated parts of the county.