Chesterfield Township license plate cameras spark criticism, lead to arrests


(WXYZ) – No matter where you turn, you’re probably being watched. This includes when you are driving in the Detroit subway. New license plate cameras have just been installed in Chesterfield Township, and police say it could help solve a wide range of crimes. Others, however, are worried.

Some drivers worry that the new cameras are an uncomfortable sign that Big Brother is still watching.

“I think it’s good and I think it’s bad,” said Jojo Merrelli, who lives in the area. “I mean, I think it’s a privacy breach because I don’t want to be checked every time I drive around the corner, but I also say if there’s a serial rapist or a murderer and that can help get them, that’s fine. “

In all, ten license plate cameras have been installed in the township.

“Some people had a hard time with this on our Facebook page. A few people mentioned it when it first came out three weeks ago, we haven’t had anything yet, we’ve only had positive things,” said said Detective Sgt. Kenneth Anderson with the Chesterfield Twp. the police department said.

These cameras are now located in three locations: 23 Mile and Gratiot, Gratiot and Marketplace, and 23 Mile near E. Russell Schmidt.

Police said over the past month they tested the cameras and were able to make arrests.

“I believe we had two stolen cars and some two, three stolen license plates that we would never have had contact with, I mean we should have had an officer right behind and handled the plate in the traditional way. “Anderson said.

Here’s how they work: When a car drives past an intersection, the cameras record the license plate. It will send an alert to the police if it has been reported as part of a crime.

It can also work to find a potentially crime related car without a license plate number. For example, if a crime has occurred near the cameras involving a black BMW, the police can use the cameras to search for the black BMWs that drove the intersection at the time of the crime.

“At least we have this tool that if we have this horrible violent kidnapping, this homicide, who knows what, we have a place to go,” Anderson added.

However, there has been at least one example of a license plate camera not performing as expected.

A year ago in Aurora, Colorado, a black family was wrongly detained with children who cried as they were forced to lie down on a hot sidewalk. At one point, the police pointed a gun at them.

What led to this frightening moment for the family was a license plate camera. The car the family was driving was reported stolen, but it was not. The car had the same plates as a stolen motorcycle in a different condition.

“It’s about solving crime and doing it in an ethical mansion,” Josh Thomas, vice president of marketing for Flock Safety, the makers of the license plate cameras.

He said their cameras were more advanced than the ones used in the Colorado incident.

“With Flock, we use machine learning to find out what the state of the plate is, because a Michigan plate can have the same characters as a California plate,” he said.

There are about half a dozen police departments in the Detroit metro that use the Flock system. They can also be purchased for businesses or neighborhood associations.

It is important to note that the cameras do not use facial recognition. They only look at license plates and details.

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