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License Plate Reader Company Continues Expansion Into Private Neighborhoods With The Help Of Some Useful Cops

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The use of automatic license plate readers by law enforcement has steadily increased over the past decade. The theory is a never ending documentation of vehicle movements results in more solved crimes and recovered stolen vehicles. Assertions about law enforcement efficiency have driven other tech acquisitions, ranging from repurposed war gear like Stingray devices to facial recognition software.But there's another force at work, one driven by private companies and aggressively marketed to private parties. Ring, Amazon's doorbell/camera acquisition, has driven its growth by portraying daily life as inherently unsafe -- a portrayal aided by its partnership with hundreds of law enforcement agencies, who often act as an extension of its marketing department.Another growth market in the private sector relies on what's normally considered to be law enforcement tech: license plate readers. Flock Safety sells plate readers to gated communities and homeowners associations, promising peace of mind to residents who often have nothing to be worried about. Residents in low crime areas are told crime is headed their way. And people inherently suspicious about anyone they don't immediately recognize were more than happy to inflict surveillance tech on anyone passing through their neighborhoods.But Flock, like Ring, isn't just for those who've kept up with or surpassed the Joneses. Flock has managed to make inroads into less spectacular neighborhoods, giving residents access to a wealth of plate/location data that is often shared with local law enforcement.

With “safety-as-a-service” packages starting at $2,500 per camera a year, the scanners are part of a growing wave of easy-to-use surveillance systems promoted for their crime-fighting powers in a country where property crime rates are at all-time lows.Once found mostly in gated communities, the systems have — with help from aggressive marketing efforts — spread to cover practically everywhere anyone chooses to live in the United States. Flock Safety, the industry leader, says its systems have been installed in 1,400 cities across 40 states and now capture data from more than a billion cars and trucks every month.
This is a private company selling products to private individuals with unproven claims about increased safety -- and it all ties into surveillance systems operated by law enforcement.
Piped into a neighborhood’s private Flock database, the photos are made available for the homeowners to search, filter or peruse. Machine-learning software categorizes each vehicle based on two dozen attributes, including its color, make and model; what state its plates came from; and whether it had bumper stickers or a roof rack.Each “vehicle fingerprint” is pinpointed on a map and tracked by how often it had been spotted in the past month. The plates are also run against law enforcement watch lists for abducted children, stolen cars, missing people and wanted fugitives; if there’s a match, the system alerts the nearest police force with details on how to track it down.
This may sound like a good and responsible use of surveillance tech. But it isn't. The system makes suspects of anyone who passes through a neighborhood while a crime is being committed. And if no one knows exactly when a crime was committed, hours of plate captures expand the list of suspects. When that happens, those running the cameras will be left to their own biases to generate their list of most-likely suspects and that's the information that's going to make its way into the hands of law enforcement.Flock Safety believes it can solve all kinds of problems, even though decades of policing have yet to generate appreciable progress. Flock's founder, Garrett Langley, says law enforcement isn't capable of solving these problems on its own, pointing to FBI crime stats that show a 17 percent clearance rate for property crimes. He may be right that not enough is being done, but these systems aren't the panacea he claims they are. This statement in particular seems insanely optimistic.
“Are we going to stop homicides? No, but we will drive the clearance rate for homicides to 100 percent so people think twice before they kill someone,” he said. “There are 17,000 cities in America. Until we have them all, we’re not done.”
Good luck. The national clearance rate on homicides hovers around 50 percent. In some cities, it's far lower than the national average. More information is always helpful, but privately owned camera systems only add to the false positive/false negative problem, and private-side bulk collections being turned over to law enforcement is a pretty problematic "solution." Tech like this also tends to nudge people towards vigilantism, something that's been observed with Ring's Neighbors app and Citizen's privately run crime reporting tool.Then there's the marketing push that now directly involves law enforcement agencies, which tends to put cameras where cops feel they should be put, with the expected results.
When Flock installed 29 cameras in Dayton, Ohio, as part of a months-long trial for the police, residents were surprised and angry to see so many of them recording in the heart of the city’s Latino community — including outside a church where local immigrant families attend Mass and gather with friends.
It's just more of the same, but enabled by private companies that see law enforcement support as an easy way to expand their market base. Flock blamed this incident -- the surveillance of minorities frequently targeted by law enforcement -- on a "gap in communication." The company provided no details on what it told police when it gave them cameras that may have been misinterpreted by law enforcement. The cameras were ultimately removed after the targets of the surveillance complained.Flock isn't going to give up its expansion plans. And cops really haven't found a camera system they don't like, not even body cameras which have done far more for them than they've done for the public. Like Ring, Flock appears willing to use public servants as PR reps and installation techs. And its expanding user base allows it to become part of a mesh network of surveillance tech that blurs the line between what the government does to us and what we choose to do to each other.

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posted at: 12:00am on 27-Oct-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Judge Dumps Felony Manslaughter Charges Brought Against An Arrestee After A Deputy Ran Over Another Deputy

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Felony murder is a truly bizarre artifact of the American justice system. It's simply not enough that there are thousands of laws that can be used to charge people who have allegedly broken them. But felony murder (and its offshoots, which include other crimes like manslaughter) allows prosecutors to charge people for crimes they didn't commit.It works like this. Two people perform a robbery. One waits in the car. The person inside the business kills someone during the robbery. Prosecutors charge the driver with "felony murder" because they can, arguing that the person's presence at a crime scene makes them as culpable as the person who actually committed the crime.It's ridiculous. But it's probably never been more ridiculous than this. Idaho resident Jenna Holm was arrested in May of last year following a traffic stop where she waved a machete at deputies and was tased into submission. During this arrest, a deputy arriving at the scene (Sgt. Randy Flagel) struck and killed Deputy Wyatt Maser with his patrol car.Not content to deal with this unfortunate accident by mourning the officer killed in the line of duty, prosecutors decided to charge the arrestee (who was not driving and did not hit the deputy) with felony involuntary manslaughter, keeping her locked up with a $100,000 bond.These charges stuck despite an internal investigation by the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office finding that the officers on the scene were almost completely responsible for the accident that killed Deputy Wyatt.

Listed below are the factors contained in the judicial documents. They pertain to actions taken by deputies, Bottcher and Maser in the apprehension of Holm and possibly led to Maser’s death.
  • Deputy Bottcher did not activate his emergency red and blues (vehicle lights).

  • Deputy Bottcher never deploy(ed) his flashlight.

  • Deputy Bottcher gave the wrong location and wrong direction of travel throughout the call.

  • Deputy Maser stopped his vehicle in the lane of traffic with only scene lights turned on with no red or blue emergency lights to the rear.

  • Deputy Maser only used his weapon-mounted flashlight.

  • Deputy Maser, while giving lethal cover to Dep. Bottcher in the Taser deployment, stepped up into the roadway in front of Sgt. Flegel’s vehicle

  • (The vehicle of a witness in the case) was positioned to the right side of his lane with bright lights shining into oncoming traffic.

Once this became public (via Holm's criminal trial), the Sheriff's Office finally decided it might spend a little more time training officers on how to handle roadside incidents, especially those that take place after nightfall.What didn't happen was any dismissal of charges. Prosecutors still maintained Holm's combativeness and possession of a machete were criminal acts serious enough to make her culpable for the ensuing deadly accident in which a law enforcement officer killed another law enforcement officer.Finally, this stupidity is over. The judge handling Holm's criminal trial has dismissed the felony involuntary manslaughter charge. (h/t Reason)According to Judge Dane Watkins, the details of this case did not meet the standards for this kind of felony charge. Under state law, there has to be some sort of criminal conspiracy to hit people who didn't commit crimes with criminal charges. In other words, the deputy who killed the other deputy would have had to have been conspiring with Jenna Holm -- the arrestee -- to commit some other crime.
“Because the state has not alleged or adduced any facts indicating Sgt. Flegel acted in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate an unlawful act, as part of a common plan with Holm, probable cause does not exist to believe Holm committed involuntary manslaughter,” District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. wrote in his decision.
Prosecutors maintained Holms was responsible because her actions during her arrest caused the officer to cross the road, which resulted in him being run over. There are no words that can completely encompass the stupidity of this argument, but the judge does a pretty good job summing it up:
”The standard the State seeks to impose would permit convictions of involuntary manslaughter in any number of situations where law enforcement responds to any unlawful act (presumably including minor infractions) and a third party kills (accidentally or otherwise) a responding officer or bystander...”
This is good. Better would be eliminating these laws, which makes conspiracy for one crime a conspiracy for all crimes. At best, these laws allow prosecutors to stack charges, making it more likely defendants will accept a plea deal, saving the state the burden of having to prove its allegations. At worst, it's just a way to inflict misery on people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time while interacting with law enforcement.

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posted at: 12:00am on 27-Oct-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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