COVINGTON — The Covington City Council is expected to approve the purchase of a Flock Camera System for photographing tags of cars as they come into the city. Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton had proposed purchasing the system in the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget, which begins July 1, but the council expressed the desire to get the system now, especially since the city would save $10,000 a year if it were purchased before July 1.
The Flock Camera System was designed by a Georgia Tech graduate to take pictures of car tags in order to match them up with stolen vehicles and in other cases. Covington Police have four cars equipped with license plate readers, but Cotton said this system would be stationed on city poles around town and able to capture more tags than the cars with the plate readers.
“They basically combined cellphone technology with a camera, hooked it to a solar panel, and it has a motion detector and takes pictures of the license plates and puts them back into a database,” Cotton said. “The beauty of the Flock system is you put it on your perimeter and when they breach the perimeter and you see you have a stolen car, you go looking for it.”
Cotton said the system is not just for finding stolen vehicles. If a crime occurs in an area, they can go back and look at all the vehicles that came into the area during a certain time and narrow their list of suspects.
“We asked Flock if we could test out two of the cameras at a business near the Walmart store on Industrial Boulevard, just trying to capture and see what comes in and out,” he said. “Walmart has awesome security video in the parking lot, and we can tell who the people are and the type of vehicle, but it doesn’t capture tags.”
Cotton noted five instances in May when the Flock cameras paid off.
♦ May 1 — A Flock alert was sent about a stolen car from South Carolina at Walmart. Police were able to arrest the two people who were in the car and recover it.
♦ May 10 — A dog was stolen from a residential yard. Police were able to identify the type of vehicle and went back and looked at the tags recorded and matched one to the vehicle. They got the address in DeKalb County, went to the house, found the dog unharmed, and arrested the thief.
♦ May 14 — On May 13, Dalanna Bailey allegedly shot two people in the Fieldcrest Walk apartments. The woman she allegedly shot eventually died. Cotton said they had a good eyewitness on the tag number of vehicle and were able to go into the Flock system and get an image of the vehicle. They posted that and DeKalb County located the car in Lithonia and they were able to arrest Bailey.
♦ May 15 — They were alerted to a car reported stolen out of Texas and arrested the thief and recover the car.
“The value of these things is amazing, and that’s just from using two of them in front of Walmart,” Cotton said. “And that is not the most prime location. What I would propose is putting the cameras at all of our exit ramps and entrances to the city. Whenever a car comes in, the tag is captured, and we’ll know if someone is in a stolen vehicle and we know to be on the lookout. It also captures the tag and if we know a crime occurs and what type of vehicle, we can go back and look into the database and find all similar vehicles during that time period. We can solve a case by using it on the backend and doing some detective work.”
Cotton said Flock had presented two proposals. One is for six cameras and would be $12,500 a year for a two-year contract, with a one-time $1,250 installation fee. The second proposal is for 20 cameras, which would be $50,000 a year for two years with a $5,000 installation fee.
Cotton said the proposals include more than just the cameras.
“That also gives us full maintenance, and the database of all jurisdictions that use the cameras,” he said. “We’re now sharing the information with a half dozen agencies and the bigger it grows, the more productive it will be.
“The 20 cameras would basically ring the city, so if you came into the city on any of the side streets, we would know,” Cotton added. “That would be the perfect world, where no matter where you came into the city, a Flock camera would record your tag.”
Assistant Finance Director Ashlan Troutman Webb told the council they have $50,000 available in the fiscal year 2020-2021 general fund budget for the cameras, but that they will have to fund it each year.
Cotton noted that he has been trying to get the proposal before the council for several months, but that the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way. Cotton said if they purchased the 20 cameras before July 1, they could get them for $40,000 a year for a two-year contract with no installation fee.
The consensus of the council was to put the purchase request on their June 1 council meeting agenda and get it done before July 1 in order to receive the better price.