Chief: New cameras have caught some criminals

Chief: New cameras have caught some criminals

PAWTUCKET – Days into a 60-day trial period for a new camera monitoring system in the city, the program is being credited with catching criminals.

Chief of Police Tina Goncalves said this week that the cameras have been utilized twice to locate two stolen cars, resulting in those vehicles being recovered and arrests being made.

“Following the conclusion of the 60-day trial, the department will consider the data provided in order to assess the successfulness of the program,” she wrote to the City Council on Aug. 31. “The analysis of the success of the cameras will be based on the number of additional crimes we are able to address using the alert system we may not have had the ability to accomplish otherwise, and any missing persons cases that are assisted,” she said.

Goncalves apologized to the council for not notifying them of the program before it went live on Aug. 18. It was previously announced that Pawtucket, along with Cranston and Woonsocket, would partner with Flock Safety on a trial basis for new automated license plate reading cameras strategically placed in high-traffic locations around the city.

Asked this week about the locations of the cameras, Goncalves declined to say.

“The location of the cameras has not been made public in order to allow them to continue to serve as a law enforcement tool and not be avoided or defaced,” she said.

Police are still in the initial stages of a 60-day trial, said Goncalves, “and we will be assessing the viability and necessity of the continuation of the program, which will be based on the number of additional crimes that the department is able to address using the alert system,” she said.

The ACLU of Rhode Island previously criticized the program over privacy concerns and the “clandestine” way the cameras were installed in the cities without input from the public.

The ACLU noted that Flock Safety has also promoted other features, including ability to identify color or make of a car.

Goncalves said in her letter that the 17 cameras were installed on city property to provide photos of license plates and vehicle characteristics, which will trigger an alert if a vehicle appears that has ties to someone committing criminal acts. The purpose is to reduce violent crime and property crime, said Goncalves, who emphasized that the cameras will not be able to capture the faces of individuals or be used for traffic enforcement, since they can’t track the speed of a vehicle or registration/insurance status.

Goncalves said Flock Safety reached out to the Rhode Island communities in late spring about the possibility of a pilot program to gauge interest in the technology.

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According to the chief, police anticipate using the system during the trial period to identify stolen or wanted vehicles or license plates, missing persons, and vehicles associated with criminal investigations that are currently ongoing.

“The data will never be sold or shared with a third party, which is why the Flock system is being trialed by Pawtucket, Cranston, and Woonsocket as the departments themselves will have access to information,” she said. A transparency portal will be established for the city showing types of information procured and a search log for 30 days, she said. Unless an image triggers an alert or is evidence of a criminal investigation, the logs are cleared after 30 days and the data is not stored.

Goncalves promised to give the council an update on the program at the conclusion of the trial period, saying the city is under no contractual obligation to continue. She said only the department will have access to the information, and not Flock Safety.

The Flock system is different from the city’s speed and red light camera program, which tickets drivers based on how fast they’re driving in school zones and whether they run red lights.