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Who's Watching?

A homeowners' association spies on speeders.

by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds

From the January, 2019 issue

Package theft is one of America's fastest-growing crimes; 30 percent of Americans say they have had at least one package stolen from their front porch or steps. But that's not why a Pittsfield Township homeowners association decided to install two surveillance cameras to read and record the license plates of cars passing through the neighborhood.

"We don't have any security concerns or troubles at Centennial Park, which is an upscale homeowners association south of Ann Arbor," says Jeffery Leonard, president of Pinnacle Condominium Management, which works for the association. "But we do have occasional concerns about traffic speed in the community." Centennial Park homes have Ann Arbor addresses, but the subdivision is just north of Saline High; residents suspected the culprits were teens cutting through on their way to school.

Centennial Park is the first Michigan customer for two-year-old Atlanta-based Flock Safety. The company offers "an affordable surveillance system that can help crack down on the nonviolent crimes that often go unsolved," says media director Josh Thomas. Most customers are homeowners associations like Centennial Park's.

The cameras are solar powered and communicate over cellular data services, so they can be installed anywhere. And unlike competitors' systems, clients don't have to comb through hundreds of hours of footage if problems arise. Users can type in the approximate time when a crime occurred to access that footage, or search using descriptions like "white truck." (Clients own the images and control who can access them, reducing privacy concerns.)

Centennial Park pays a $2,000 annual rental fee per camera. That's far less than the surveillance cameras used by police agencies, which typically are sold outright for between $20,000 and $40,000. On the other hand, police cameras are capable of reading license plates on vehicles going up to 160 miles per hour, while Flock's can read them only at 65 miles per hour or less.

"One of our cofounders, Garrett Langley, experienced crime in his neighborhood and learned that home security

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cameras often don't give enough evidence," Thomas says. "He joined with Matt Feury, who is now our chief technical officer, to develop cameras that will, for a relatively low cost, offer the kind of evidence police need. Our mission is to eliminate nonviolent crimes, which account for $15.5 billion in lost property in the U.S; 80 percent of those crimes are never solved. We work closely with law enforcement to help solve crimes. We give the evidence the police need to make arrests."

The cameras were installed in October, and Leonard says it's too early to say whether drivers are slowing down because of them--but at the very least, they should identify future offenders.

"Everyone believes the speeders are outsiders," Leonard says. "But we may learn that they're our own residents and teenagers."     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2019.]


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