Photos snapped of license plates by motion-activated cameras are helping Fairfax County police solve crimes they might not otherwise decipher. License plate–reader cameras, in the past year, have helped police arrest a child pornography suspect, bust up a Tysons theft ring, locate stolen cars, and find missing people.
The technology is helping to change policing, says Holly Beilin, spokeswoman for Flock Safety, the company that provides the cameras to Fairfax County and about 100 other Virginia police departments.
Beilin says often a vehicle image and a license plate number are the most useful investigative leads a detective may have.
“LPR cameras are very specifically calibrated to be able to hone in on a license plate, even if the vehicle is going very fast and is far away. They can also see license plates at night. The software in the cameras then compares that plate to different state and national crime databases, like the FBI National Crime Information Center or the Amber Alert database,” says Beilin.
The cameras capture not only the plate number, but the color, make, and model of the vehicle, as well as whether it has something specific, such as a roof rack. They are able to track whether a vehicle has been stolen and whether it’s associated with a known criminal.
“When these cameras go into the ground, clearance rates start to go up. We see that crimes are being solved more quickly and are more likely to be solved in a community with these safety cameras,” Beilin says. The police department stores the data for 30 days.
Typically, the cameras are on poles along the side of the road with a solar panel affixed to them or to existing infrastructure, like a light, Beilin says. Fairfax County police declined to disclose the specific locations of its cameras “due to their importance in ensuring the effectiveness of our operations.”
In their first year of operation, which ended in November, the cameras helped Fairfax County with 335 cases. That includes finding 18 missing people, something Beilin says has a direct impact on families.
“Across the country and in Virginia, the Flock LPRs have helped law enforcement identify, literally, hundreds and recover and return safely, literally, hundreds of missing persons. And that ranges from senior citizens who might have dementia or Alzheimer’s who grab a car and get confused and can end up in a different county or even a different state, to folks — especially children, but also adults — that have been intentionally kidnapped and may be being trafficked,” she says.
Fairfax County Chief of Police Kevin Davis sums up the help: “LPR technology has proven to be a game changer for our community. It has enhanced our ability to protect and serve Fairfax County.”
Feature image courtesy Flock Safety
This story originally ran in our February issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.