At their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Peninsula Township Board voted to allow the installation of six license plate reader cameras on Old Mission Peninsula roads at a cost of $17,100. The cost covers the $2500 annual lease and $350 initial setup costs for each camera.
Undersheriff Mike Shea, who also lives on the OMP, was present at the meeting and explained that the cameras, which can also be used as a traffic counter, help police investigators solve crimes.
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“These cameras are the latest and greatest, and they are not just a license plate reader,” he said. “They are a vehicle identifier.”
According to Flock Safety, the company that builds and writes the software for the cameras, the solar-powered cameras are motion activated, operate 24/7 and only take a picture of the back of the vehicle. There is no face recognition, and they do not track the speed of vehicles.
However, Shea noted that the cameras capture vehicle details that law enforcement personnel need to track leads and solve crimes. The technology allows them to search by vehicle make, color, type, license plate, state of the license plate, missing plate, covered plate, paper plate, and unique vehicle details such as roof racks, bumper stickers and more.
Shea added that when he was a detective, he picked up a case that had been ongoing for three years in Grand Traverse County. “Peninsula Township was one of the places where people were being victimized, “and they could not catch these people,” he said. “Fast forward, and I was able to ID and convict them, and it happened to be from a case out here. Had we had Flock cameras, this would have been shut down years ago.”
He also mentioned the still-unsolved incident in 2013 when Kelly Boyce was hit and killed by a vehicle as she was riding her bike home from work in Traverse City. “If these cameras were up [at that time], I don’t think it would be an unsolved case,” said Shea. “From an investigative standpoint, from a public safety standpoint, it’s huge.”
Township Board member Warren Wahls, who is also a prosecutor in Grand Traverse County, said that while he understands the importance of the cameras in solving crimes, he also questions the privacy issue of Peninsula Township residents.
“A lot of times traffic stops are being used right now to overextend searches,” he said. “I think it’s a slippery slope, and this is just one more avenue to pull people over to get from reasonable suspicion to probable cause to search their entire vehicle.”
While Shea understands the concerns, he responded, “Would you not rather we stop you and ID you and find out that nope, you’re not the one we’re looking for, if you are the vicitim of the crime?” He also mentioned that worries over camera misuse led the American Civil Liberties Union to propose guidelines for law enforcement agencies in municipalities that choose to implement the technology.
The Township Board voted unanimously to install the cameras for a period of one year.
(Fun Fact: My dad, Walter Johnson, was good friends with Mike’s dad, Don Shea, and they served together on the school board at Old Mission Peninsula School in 1964, along with Marshall Griffin, Robert Rudd and Kent Winsemius.)