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Houston County may add more than 75 license plate-reading cameras

District Attorney Will Kendall says the solar-power cameras would be located in high-crime areas and along state highways

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — More than 75 additional license plate-reading, FLOCK cameras could soon be on the side of the road in Houston County.

The FLOCK camera system isn't anything new to Houston County. The Warner Robins Police Department has been using FLOCK for a while, and now, the rest of the county has started the process to get their own.

Houston County leaders have been researching different license plate-reading cameras for about a year now.

"It's important not only to the county, but also the individual cities," Houston County District Attorney Will Kendall said.

Kendall says the Houston County Board of Commission approved 75 to 100 new FLOCK cameras for the entire county.

"Nobody is sitting at a computer watching live streams of photos coming in. There has to be a purpose of the search. It has to be associated with a particular case and those search results obviously have to be vetted by a law enforcement person," Kendall said.

Kendall says the solar power cameras would be located in high-crime areas and the side of state highways throughout Houston County. He says they would not be recording any video, but taking still images of license plates.

"Of course, it doesn't have facial recognition software. It's not set-up for stop lights or stop signs. It doesn't track your speed. It doesn't even have the capability to tell you how fast your vehicle is going," Kendall said.

Houston Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker says the board agreed to pay for the cameras for the first four years of the contract, "During which time you are going to need to find a future funding source to continue it. It will also give you time to examine the results."

Stalnaker says one year costs about $185,000. The estimated four-year total is $740,000.

"We put it into law enforcement hands and also the DA's hands. We kept politics out of it. The only way I said I would support it was if it was a unified system [FLOCK], because I think when you are unified, you get better results," Stalnaker said.

"It'll create safer communities and that's a big goal for us, obviously," Kendall said.

Kendall says the additional cameras will help his office prosecute criminals.

"For instance, if you know we could identify somebody at a scene of a shooting then we could also go back after the fact, even though that person had already been identified, and do a search and say well ok, their vehicle was obviously in that area during that time. That helps our ability to prosecute," Kendall said.

Kendall also says FLOCK cameras can also help solve "humanitarian crisis" too.

"We had an elderly person who had alzheimers or dementia who was supposed to be at church at a certain time. He never showed up. Knowing his license plate, we were able to plug that into the system and get a general location of where he'd recently been and we were able to locate that person. Another example out of Perry, we had I think a 13 or 14 year old girl who had been taken by a 35-year-old man; and he started traveling North, presumably to go to the Atlanta area for human trafiking or human trafficking or sex trafficking, something like that. Law enforcement were able to get a plate number. They plugged that into their system and put out what we call a hot list, kind of like a BOLO--be on the lookout. The person was picked up in Henry County where law enforcement spotted the tag using their FLOCK system; and was able to conduct a traffic stop, take him into custody, and send the girl back home to Perry safely," Kendall said.

The City of Perry and The City of Centerville also approved the cameras. Warner Robins mayor and council vote Monday at their next council meeting.

"I want to thank Will Kendall, the District Attorney, because he led that group. You bring all the law enforcement agencies and you get them to sit down in a room and everybody agrees on the same system and locations of the cameras initially, and the results expected out of it, that is a huge undertaking and he did a great job leading them through that process," Kendall said.

"To have the mayor and city council members and the Board of Commissioners all on the same page, I think it shows a couple of things. One that we can accomplish big goals when we work together. Teamwork is paramount, but also this is something that is important," Kendall said.

If all municipalities agree, the cameras should arrive in January and be fully operating by next summer.

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