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Indy neighborhoods scanning visitors' license plates

The data stored for 30 days in the cloud is searchable, by make and model, if there's a report of a crime.

INDIANAPOLIS — An increasing number of central Indiana neighborhoods are turning to technology to deter and solve crimes.

They're partnering with private companies to install license plate scanners in their subdivisions.

In Indy's Pickwick Commons neighborhood, there's an extra set of eyes scanning cars to solve crime.

"It's a camera," Pickwick Commons HOA President Jayson Parker explained. "It runs on solar power. It stores images on the cloud."

A motion-activated license plate reader now sits at both entrances. It takes a snapshot of vehicles going in and out.

The data stored for 30 days in the cloud is searchable, by make and model, if there's a report of a crime.

Parker said, faced with an increase in crime for their homeowners, his HOA board looked at the cost of gates, other cameras and paying for police patrols before settling on this technology.

"We were having some issues with a lot of mail theft and porch pirates," Parker said. "We had felt we needed to do something to improve the safety of our neighborhood."

Their HOA is one of about a dozen in the Indy Metro area to partner with a private company to scan visitors' plates.

Pickwick Commons is paying $4,000 dollars a year for two cameras.

Flock Safety makes the hardware and said since the company started selling it to neighborhoods three years ago, pictures passed on to police have cracked cases nationwide.

"Our technologies live in over 1,000 cities across the country with neighborhoods," said Josh Thomas, Flock Safety marketing VP. "In Houston, Texas they've had over a million dollars in recovered stolen vehicles. In California, over a million dollars in recovered stolen vehicles."

In Parker's neighborhood, the scanner was able to ID a theft suspect's car, after landscaping gear got stolen.

"We were able to ID the car because we had a witness see the gentleman do it. They told us, you know, what the car looked like, the color and the make and the time, and we were able to go to the footage and get the car with the license plate. It was at the same time. And we forwarded it onto the landscaper," Parker said.

Credit: WTHR
Pickwick Commons neighborhood cameras store data for 30 days in the cloud. It is searchable, by make and model, if there's a report of a crime.

There is concern from some though, about civil liberties as it relates to license plate scanners. Is Big Brother tracking too much with a scanner for civilians?

Parker said he was leery at first too, but believes privacy violations haven't been an issue in his neighborhood.

"It's not used for anything other than when we have report of a crime and beyond that, we don't look at it and it's only stored for 30 days, so it's wiped clean after that," Parker said.

"I totally understand there are concerns about privacy, which is why we, from the beginning, we try to mitigate that by limiting who has access to the footage by only filming the public information - vehicles and license plates," Thomas said. "We don't identify the drivers of the vehicles. We don't see people. We don't see race."

Parker said in his neighborhood, the cameras – and the signs that warn "24/7 video recording" – are working. They haven't had a mail theft in a year. A subdivision nearby is now considering installing license plate scanners, too.