City of Katy to implement new technological layer of security

Katy License Plate Reader
(Designed by José Dennis)

(Designed by José Dennis)

Image description
(Designed by José Dennis)
Image description
(Designed by José Dennis)
Image description
(Designed by José Dennis)
Image description
(Designed by José Dennis)
Katy Police Department Chief Noe Diaz said he wants to keep residents as safe as possible as the city grows. Diaz will add a layer of security to increase the rate of solved crimes and to discourage individuals from committing them at all.

In January, Katy City Council approved Diaz’s proposal to install 22 license plate readers around the Katy Mills business district and inside some neighborhoods where the department receives the most calls for service.

“A police officer can’t be everywhere at all times,” Diaz said. “They take lunch, take a day off or go on vacation. These will add a layer of security to keep the communities and the businesses a little safer.”

Although Katy is a safe community, there are some petty crimes such as car break-ins and tailgate thefts he wants to prevent, he said. The culprits behind these crimes include commuters who travel from town to town to break the law and bored teenagers, he said. So far in 2020, KPD has received 11 calls for service regarding a burglary of a motor vehicle and 72 calls to report a theft, per city data.

Joshua Miller works in public relations at Flock Safety, the Atlanta-based tech company partnering with the city to install the license plate readers. He said Diaz wants to warn ill-intentioned travelers they will get caught because the evidence will be there.


“I don’t want people to think they are not welcome here, but if you are a bad guy, don’t come,” Diaz said.

What to expect

By late April, 22 license plate readers will be situated in strategic locations based on crime and traffic trends, Diaz said.

“I think it is a wonderful investment and great tool to have,” Katy Mayor Bill Hastings said. “These are not red-light cameras. That’s what everybody seems to get confused about.”

Miller said the motion-activated license plate readers are not surveillance cameras on a constant loop. The device will capture a series of photos to store vehicle information—such as the make, model, color, plate and any aesthetic damages—as the vehicle passes by the camera. They will also capture bicycles and pedestrians. Images will then be sent to the cloud, which Katy police can access as needed.

All data will be automatically and permanently deleted after 30 days, as the types of crimes intended to be solved with the license plate readers do not require footage going back more than one month, Miller said.

“Police need the license plate to track a lead that wouldn’t necessarily be there without it,” Miller said.

The total cost for 22 license plate readers is $44,000, roughly equivalent to the salary of one officer. Each license plate reader will cost $2,000 annually, which includes installation, maintenance, solar panels and cellular data, Miller said.

The prototype license plate reader south of I-10 helped solve a significant crime less than one week after it was installed in November, Katy Police Department Detective Jerod Stewart said.

“The case is still in court, so we can’t talk about details until they prosecute the suspect at the federal level,” Stewart said. “They indicted him.”

The readers’ software will alert KPD of any vehicles associated with theft; associated with amber, silver and blue alerts; or registered to individuals with a record of violent crimes.

“If we have a crime that happens from 1 o’clock to 2 o’clock, and someone calls to say they saw a white truck, we can instantly type in ‘white truck’ in that time frame, and it will give us every white truck,” Diaz said.

Resident feedback

These license plate readers are meant to help local businesses, Diaz said. For example, 1000 Degrees Pizza Salad Wings, located at 24600 Katy Freeway, Ste. 800, Katy, has been burglarized three times since it opened three years ago, owner John Bock said. Most recently, Bock’s business was broken into on Jan. 9.

“I’m kinda for it,” Bock said of the license plate readers. “Every time you try to implement something there [are] going to be unintended consequences, but later you have the ability to rectify that after hearing from the community or observing the problems that it created.”

Council Member Frank Caroll said he supports the idea of essentially adding 22 more sets of eyes to help the police department fight crime.

“Small town police departments can provide big city service if they leverage available technology, and that is exactly what is happening in Katy,” Caroll said.

Council Member Janet Corte sought to clarify the importance of the idea at the Jan. 27 meeting.

“I understand that this brings so much value to the department that [Diaz is] willing to forgo one of [his] budgeted officers to get this system in place,” Corte said.

No officers lost their jobs to implement the new system, Diaz said adding he chose not to fill a vacancy until the next budget cycle.

Diaz said he received positive feedback from residents, though there are a few who have expressed concerns about privacy.

Resident David Chapman, who lives near the Grand Parkway and I-10, said it is common to see people checking for unlocked cars at night in surrounding neighborhoods, yet he is worried about data privacy.

“There is always the concern of the data being used for its intended purpose and citizens being made aware of when this data will be shared,” Chapman said. “How will this data be secured and guarded against hackers that may try to obtain this information illegally and for malicious intent?”

Diaz said the data collected will not be sold to third parties, and Miller said Flock Safety takes privacy seriously.

The desired effect

KPD will share data with neighboring counties and police departments to solve crimes, Diaz said.

Additionally, homeowners associations for communities such as Green Meadows, Wood Creek Reserve and Cane Island are considering installing their own neighborhood license plate readers to enhance security, Diaz said.

The HOAs plan to give the police department access to the data, which will give KPD the ability to access nearly 50 cameras total, Stewart said.

“These license plate readers will allow us to track trends and identify if an area needs more attention,” Diaz said. “We [will] develop strategies and then do targeted police enforcement as opposed to someone driving around all day with no direction.”

Hastings said he would like to see more license plate readers installed around the city and make it difficult for anyone to travel to Katy to commit a crime and remain undetected.

Ada Soto, who has been a Katy resident since 2014, said with the license plate readers and with private citizen security systems, locals can work together to identify criminals.

“I understand concerns about privacy, but something has to be done about ... petty crime before it becomes something more serious,” Soto said.

Chapman ultimately agreed.

“Cameras will not prevent crime, but it will make it easier to catch criminal activity after it has occurred,” he said. “This may help be a deterrent if criminals are aware of these cameras and have a higher rate of being caught in the area.”
By Nola Valente
A native Texan, Nola serves as reporter for the Katy edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She studied print journalism at the University of Houston and French at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. Nola was previously a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem, Israel covering Middle East news through an internship with an American news outlet.


MOST RECENT

From left, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Wayne Young, CEO of The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis announced a new community-initiated mental health care project during a press conference Oct. 26. (Screenshot via Facebook Live)
Harris County officials unveil new three-year $8.93M community-initiated mental health care initiative

The community care model will focus on 10 ZIP codes totaling about 300,000 residents that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and suicide, and that have a lower utilization of behavioral health care services, by providing mental health education and training to members of the community.

KISD employees received their last pay increase in July. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Katy ISD approves doubling December employee bonuses

The money, which will come through in employees’ December paychecks, is normally a 1% lump sum payment built into the district’s compensation plan but is being raised to 2% for this year.

Katy Sip N Stroll is set to return on Nov. 6. (Photo courtesy Food & Vine Time Productions)
Wine, craft beer, food tasting stations and more: Katy Sip N Stroll returns Nov. 6

The community’s largest wine and culinary festival, Katy Sip N Stroll, features 30 food tasting stations and over 250 beverage selections. It is set to return on Nov. 6.

Harris County Deputy Kareem Atkins was honored by Harris County commissioners on Oct. 26. (Emily Lincke/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County commissioners designate Oct. 25 as 'Deputy Kareem Atkins Day'

“Deputy Kareem Atkins Day” will be celebrated annually to recognize Atkins' heroism and service, Judge Lina Hidalgo said at the court’s Oct. 26 regular meeting. According to Hidalgo, Atkins was the first Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office deputy to be fatally shot.

"The Dude" is the signature burger at Lebowski's Grill. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Lebowski's Grill upends expectations in Austin; first Houston-area Costco Business Center opens in Stafford and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 26.

Want to know more about new businesses coming to the Katy area? Below you can find details on the five latest commercial projects filed in Katy. (Courtesy Canva)
MAP: Check out the 5 latest commercial projects filed in Katy, including a renovated 99 Clay Eskimo Hut

Want to know more about new businesses coming to the Katy area? Below you can find details on the five latest commercial projects filed in Katy.

New statewide maps will go into effect Jan. 18, 2022. (Community Impact Newspaper Staff)
Gov. Abbott approves new voting maps for state legislature, Congress, school districts for next decade

The maps will go into effect Jan. 18, 2022, after the state legislature passed them during a 30-day special session.

The statewide job fair will connect veterans to employers as well as other resource providers. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
Statewide job fair aims to connect Texas veterans and their families to employers

The job fair is coming to local Texas Workforce Solutions offices, some of which are having early admission for veterans and their families.

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Texas Medical Center coronavirus updates: Average daily hospitalizations continue decline, drop below 100 since early July

For the first time since early July, the average number of daily coronavirus hospitalizations at Texas Medical Center hospitals has dropped below 100.

Teso Life currently has a location in Carrollton near another 99 Ranch Market and other Asian businesses and restaurants. (Matt Payne/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Japanese department store Teso Life coming to Frisco; New Braunfels’ Gruene Hall set as backdrop for Scotty McCreery music video and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 25.

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Katy focuses on public safety, recovery in fiscal year 2021-22 budget

The city will spend 6.2% more than last year on the Katy Fire Department and Katy Police Department, 40% more on funding for drainage and street projects, and 19% more for park improvements.