Grafton police using new camera system to stop thefts

NOW: Grafton police using new camera system to stop thefts

GRAFTON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A new effort to crack down on crime in Grafton has not come without some controversy.

The village has installed five new cameras to take pictures of every car and license plate that drives past.

The police hope the new camera system will put a stop to rising theft cases.

The cameras will do more than snap a picture. They're also capturing every car's identifying features to give detectives more leads.

"Our retail thefts are on the rise in the area, we have a lot of unsolved cases, a lot of them can be tracked down to stolen vehicles," said Grafton Police Sgt. Patrick Brock.

Businesses reported 118 retail thefts to Grafton police last year. The department hopes these new cameras from Flock Safety will solve those cases.

"There's thousands and thousand of dollars in retail thefts that are occurring at our retail stores weekly," said Brock.

The cameras will snap a picture of the license plate and take a picture of a car's profile. The system is then able to lot bumper stickers or trailer hitches, giving detectives more ways to search for suspect cars. The system will also send alerts if the license plate reader gets a match for a stolen car, stolen plate, or other lead to a crime put into a national database.

"We'll get a real-time notification what direction it's traveling, the description of the vehicle and that license plate," said Brock.

The technology does not come without its critics. The Wisconsin ACLU sent CBS 58 a statement that said in part:

"Both nationally and locally, there is a troubling trend that local police departments are increasingly using surveillance technology, but doing so in secret or outside the purview of public oversight."

But Flock Safety believes it has developed its system to address those concerns.

"Focusing on cars and vehicle license plates, it's not about people, we don't use facial recognition technology," said Flock Safety Marketing Vice President Josh Thomas.

He said the data the cameras collect is erased every 30 days, and the company strictly controls who has access to the information.

"Everything is encrypted, there's no third parties who have access, Flock Safety's staff, we don't have access to any of this footage," said Thomas.

He also said the public can get to the data by asking police departments for access through open records laws.

"We do make it available to audit what's happening, and we're very careful with who has access and for how long," said Thomas.

Grafton will also get alerts from a similar setup in Jackson. Brock is hopeful this system will help the department close more theft cases.

"The camera systems for some of the buildings for some of the businesses aren't quite as robust, or a lot of times the criminals park well away from the cameras," said Brock.

The system has been up and running since the beginning of June. Each camera cost Grafton $2,500.

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