DeKALB — The installation of new license plate reading cameras in the city has been delayed by import and export issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeKalb police officials said.
DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd previously said police officials hoped to have the dozen readers installed citywide by November. However, he said at the City of DeKalb Human Relations Commission meeting on Tuesday the department has ordered six cameras so far. He was told that the devices were on their way.
“Hopefully the installation will probably be before the end of the month,” Byrd said.
On October 11, the city council approved a five-year contract for 12 license plate readers from Canadian company CDS Genetec for $145,865. Since then, city officials said they have addressed community surveillance concerns.
Byrd has previously said the cameras, which scan license plates and check them for information, will better aid police criminal investigations. He said he spoke to some residents who were concerned about random tracking of vehicles for suspended or expired license plates. He said the readers would only be used to track vehicles involved in crimes.
Byrd said the cameras are not intended to be used for total community surveillance and are not used for facial recognition software or as red light or speed cameras.
“I know that’s kind of one of the biggest concerns,” Byrd said Tuesday.
DeKalb Dep. Police Chief Jason Leverton said the cameras work the same way smartphone cameras scan QR codes. The cameras analyze the characteristics of the vehicle’s taillights to identify the make and model, as well as the license plate numbers. The scans can automatically feed a database containing tagged information associated with ongoing criminal investigations. The drives, however, will not continuously record video or still images during the process, he said.
Leverton said some states do not require vehicles to have front license plates, but all states require rear license plates.
“It basically scans vehicles that are moving away from the camera,” Leverton said.
The cameras are designed to flag only license plates that are linked to an ongoing crime, a missing person or a person with criminal charges, city staff previously said. That means the software can potentially report a stolen car, identify a person wanted for a crime, or identify a vehicle connected to an Amber or Silver alert, Byrd said.
Byrd said the database feed of reader information, which will be considered sensitive information for ongoing investigations, will work in the background for dispatchers at the police station. If a car associated with a crime is detected by readers, dispatchers will receive an audible notification from the system, he said.
“That’s how they’ll know there’s a criminal vehicle in our town,” Byrd said.
Byrd said police plan to install the cameras in entrance and exit hallways and on high-traffic roads in the city, as well as in areas identified by police as high crime. He said that while the cameras will not be hidden, he will not identify where police will place them so that people facing potential arrest warrants do not avoid the area for fear of detection.
“It totally destroys the goal,” Byrd said.
Byrd said he believes the cameras will help police tackle crime in the city in a significant way and act as a deterrent to people wanting to cause DeKalb trouble.
“It gives us eyes where we don’t have eyes,” Byrd said.