Cameras that read, track license plates helping to solve crimes in Savannah

Tuesday morning, Savannah resident Jonathan Holt was fueling a vehicle at Murphy Oil in front of Walmart when a city police patrol unit pulled up behind him.
According to the Savannah Police Department’s incident report, Holt, 38, stopped pumping gas, jumped behind the wheel and sped off, running a red light and heading east on U.S. 64.
With two police units in pursuit, Holt lost control of his vehicle, which spun around, struck one patrol car in the side and the other head-on before coming to rest under a tractor trailer which had stopped to avoid being involved in the commotion.
Firearms at the ready, police removed Holt from his vehicle and placed him under arrest. He now faces multiple charges, including possession of stolen property, evading arrest, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault with a motor vehicle, records show.
It wasn’t just by chance that an officer pulled up behind Holt at the pump. Since late September, said Chief Michael Pitts, the Savannah Police Department has had a new tool in its arsenal.
It’s a camera that reads license plates and with sophisticated software can be used to help solve crime.
Offered by Atlanta-based Flock Safety, the company’s cameras lease for $2,000 annually. It was one of two such cameras the department is using that alerted Savannah police within moments that a license tag reported stolen had been spotted, Pitts said.
Using that information, officers encountered Holt, leading to his arrest, he said.
According to Flock Safety, its cameras don’t capture faces, but do detect vehicle make, type, color, license plate, state, temporary and missing plates.
Integrated with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, the system “will actually alert us to when a potential stolen car, potential stolen license plate, potential wanted person, passes that camera,” Pitts said.
It can track when and how often a specified vehicle passes, or search for broad categories such as all red pickup trucks during a certain time-frame.
Since coming online locally, the new Flock Safety cameras – which join two conspicuously blue-flashing “Sky Cop” cameras already in use – have helped investigators solve several property crimes and even resulted in the arrest of a murder suspect, Pitts said.
“For people who worry about Big Brother,” he said, the Flock Safety system securely stores and keeps data for 30 days and then automatically deletes it. Rank-and-file officers receive the alerts, but conducting searches or entering information into the system requires authorization from higher-ups with at least the rank of detective.
Pitts added that an officer can’t rely solely on the Flock Safety alert to make a traffic stop or search. Standard police procedure for establishing probable cause must still be followed.
Coupled with other investigative methods and tools, the latest cameras “allow us to piece together an individual’s movement prior to committing a crime, or immediately after,” he said.
The chief declined to cite the location of the camera units. However, major traffic corridors are common locations for such systems.

3 Comments

  1. Franklin D Richerson on January 21, 2021 at 10:46 am

    I THINK THIS IS A WONDERFUL TOOL FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT.

  2. Stephen on January 22, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Now disnt that make a whole lot of sense, “it cant read faces but it can pick up suspects when they pass by the camera”
    My dont we have geniuses on the force???

  3. Josh on January 27, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    Well criminals better beware. Lol. Savannah should put it in high traffic areas.

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