League City officials want residents, especially drivers, to be aware of a new technology on city streets that will make it easier to catch and deter criminals. Several cameras from the company Flock Security, a private security camera company, have been installed across the city to read license plates, and they’re already helping police solve crimes, said Harold Lee, League City Police Department captain.

Two-minute impact

Beginning in December, League City police began installing Flock cameras along major roadways in the city. Officials declined to say exactly where they were installed so as to not tip off would-be criminals.

The cameras are positioned to capture the license plates of vehicles driving away from them. Scanned license plates are kept on file for 30 days before automatically being deleted.

Police can use the technology to see if a vehicle matching a desired license plate has passed any of the cameras in the past month, which helps police in their investigations, Lee said.

For instance, police were investigating a murder on the city’s east side and, using Flock cameras from other agencies, determined a vehicle was following the victim before their death, which led to solving the case, Lee said.

“That was our first big lead,” Lee said, adding how many other agencies in the Greater Houston area use Flock cameras was a major selling point to him.

In addition to solving crimes, the cameras may help police find missing people, such as children and elders, and deter crime from occurring. If criminals know League City has Flock cameras, they may decide to take their criminal activity elsewhere, Lee said.

The breakdown

As of Aug. 24, police had installed 26 cameras across League City. A total of 42 cameras will be installed.

Each camera costs $2,500 per year, Lee said, for a total annual cost of $105,000.

This doesn’t include the homeowners associations and private businesses working with police to get their own Flock cameras. The Mar Bella HOA has received four Flock cameras, and other HOAs and businesses will soon receive their own as well, Lee said.
In their own words

Lee compared the Flock camera technology to the breakthrough in using DNA evidence to solve crimes.

“We’re going to be solving so many more cases now,” he said. “It’ll give us leads that we didn’t have before.”

Also of note

Lee said he understands some may be concerned this technology will be used to spy on residents. Lee assured the public that’s not the case.

“I understand the reasoning behind it, but we’ve put in some safeguards to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Police can’t enter the Flock database without investigating a high-level case. Therefore, the cameras will be used only for major crimes, not small things such as speeding or parking tickets, Lee said.

Additionally, the cameras don’t have facial recognition technology. In fact, that concern is why cameras were deliberately positioned to scan the backs of vehicles passing instead of approaching vehicles, Lee said.

What’s next

Police may one day get Flock technology in their dashboard cameras.

In 2024, Axon, the company that provides League City police’s dashboard cameras, will merge technology with Flock. Lee said he hopes some of Flock’s license plate-reading technology will be available on police’s dashboard cameras.