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City officials are weighing automated license plate reader pilot program

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The Winston-Salem Police Department may participate in a pilot program in which automated license plate readers will be deployed throughout the city.

City officials are promoting the program as a crime-fighting tool.

The program would cover a year, and it would allow city officials to gather feedback from local residents about how they view the automated license plate readers within Winston-Salem, said Patrice Toney, an assistant city manager.

Toney pointed to the shortage of nearly 100 sworn officers in the police department. The license plate readers “actually help officers in the sense that they don’t have to be everywhere all of the time,” Toney said.

The city’s public-works committee voted Tuesday to reconsider at its Oct. 11 meeting an agreement with Flock Safety of Atlanta for the installation of 24 automated license plate readers within Winston-Salem, according to a city document.

Flock Safety is a public safety operating system that helps communities and law enforcement agencies reduce crime.

The system’s cameras would be mounted on metal poles, and they would stand 13 feet in height, the document says.

Assistant Police Chief William Penn provided information in March about the system to the city’s public-safety committee.

Flock Safety and Axon Enterprises Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., which provides officers with body cameras, would pay $71,000 for the Winston-Salem Police Department to participate in the pilot program, Penn said.

The system’s cameras would capture vehicles’ license plate numbers, allowing officers to track vehicles that are suspected in crimes in Winston-Salem, Penn said.

License plate readers would provide real-time information about stolen vehicles, Amber and Silver alerts to the police department’s real-time crime center and its communication center, Penn said.

“We can get officers on that case immediately,” Penn said.

Licence plate cam

An automated license plate reader stands along Cromartie Street near its intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. The Winston-Salem Police Department may deploy 24 automatic license plate readers throughout the city.

Automated license-plate readers are being used by Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the Kernersville Police Department and the Greensboro Police Department as well as the Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University police departments, Penn said.

In November 2021, Greensboro police installed automatic license-plate reader cameras along the city’s rights of way in high crime areas, the Greensboro News and Record reported at the time.

During the March public-safety committee meeting, Annette Scippio, who represents the East Ward on the Winston-Salem City Council, said she supported the deployment of the automated license plate readers in the city.

However, Scippio said, “It seems like big brother is watching you. I know that will be a concern.”

Scippio expanded on her previous statement Friday, pointing to George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which described a society where the government as “big brother” used devices to monitor the daily activities of people.

“It appears that technology can be used for surveillance, targeted marketing, personal safety and security as well as insights into the lifestyles of individuals,” Scippio said. “The automated license plate readers will be a critical tool in our efforts to resolve public safety situations.”

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@jhintonWSJ

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