ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The Round Rock Police Department began a pilot program for Flock license plate reader cameras in April. The free trial will end June 17, and the decision to continue the program would require council approval for funding.
The police department began a 60-day pilot program with 30 cameras in April. Cameras collect images of the rears of cars. The data collected includes license plates and the make, model and color of cars.
Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said the department found success with the cameras in stolen vehicle cases and a jugging case, which is when a bank is staked out to watch for people who take out large sums of cash to then steal that money.
The data is used for crime prevention, crime investigation and for missing person cases, Banks said.
“We’re not out trying to see who is doing what. It only captures the rear of the vehicle [and] the license plate and does not capture the front of the vehicle,” Banks said. “So we’re not tracking the driver or who’s driving a car.”
Banks said collected data is stored on servers for 30 days and then automatically purged. Camera data could be shared between law enforcement agencies, though neighboring agencies like Williamson County and Pflugerville are starting their own Flock trials too.
Banks said the police department will request funding in the next city budget in case RRPD chooses to extend the Flock program. If so, data will be presented to council members to show why the police department feels the program was successful. City council would then choose whether or not to approve the funding.
The initial pilot did not require council approval because there were no costs, according to the city.
Banks said the decision to continue the program will answer the question: How will it help us reduce crime and make Round Rock a safer community?
“It’s not really [to] the benefit of the police department. It’s [to] the benefit of the citizens of Round Rock because it’s taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Round Rock resident David Johnson said privacy is a major concern with these cameras. He said the surveillance does not make him feel safer.
“They’re kind of taking on a free trial like it’s a Netflix trial. But really, this is a really serious matter where it’s our entire lives that are now being sent to a private company here that the citizens haven’t been told anything about,” Johnson said.
Pflugerville Police will install 28 Flock cameras around the city in high-traffic and large retail areas. A city spokesperson said these cameras are not yet active, and there is no update on when the installation will be complete. Once active, Pflugerville PD will offer a transparency data portal to the public.
Additionally, Williamson County plans to install 25 license-plate reading cameras across the county in a 12-month pilot program. Commissioners approved the program in Williamson County’s Sheriff’s Office has not confirmed to KXAN if its cameras are active yet.
Though different than the Flock license plate readers, Austin Police Department is looking to add more HALO, or “high activity location observation,” cameras in its Safer Sixth Street initiative. There are already 47 cameras downtown, and a city memo said the city is looking to add 13 more HALO cameras.
KXAN requested the locations of the Flock cameras, but the public information request was sent to the attorney general’s office for consideration.