Shavano Heights neighborhood using license plate reader to crack down on crime

By Patty Santos - Reporter, Robert Samarron - Photojournalist

SHAVANO HEIGHTS, Texas - Editor's note: This story initially incorrectly reported that the license plate readers are being deployed in the Shavano Park neighborhood. In fact, Shavano Heights is using the technology. KSAT regrets the error, and will run an on-air correction, as well.

Technology once used exclusively by law enforcement agencies is now used by property owners to track down drivers through license plates.

Helen Cronenberg, of Shavano Heights, is a homeowners association president for a community that was having issues with break-ins last fall. 

The community installed a 24-hour surveillance camera to crack down on crime.

“In October, November of last year, we installed the system, and so far, we have had no problems since then. It has totally eliminated our problems,” Cronenberg said about the Flock Safety camera security system.

The system records and tracks license plates going in and out of the gate. The system allows Cronenberg to search specific vehicle types, color or even people and animals that come across the camera.

“If a burglary occurs, we can look for the license plates that entered,” she said. “Our system will tell us ‘Is this the first time this car entered our community?’ or, 'How many times has it entered the community?”

Dallas attorney Austin Pennington said there are some safety concerns that come to mind with these types of systems if the information lands in the wrong hands.

From a Fourth Amendment standpoint, Pennington said, if the information is shared with law enforcement, it could infringe on a driver’s rights. As a consumer, he says he’s concerned about where the information is being stored and if is it safe.

“We’ve had so many issues with data breaches in all different types of companies, credit reporting agencies, mobile phone carriers, retailers online,” Pennington said. “Anytime you’re storing data, if it’s not stored in a secured location protected by layers of security, you have a risk for a data breach. In this situation, consumers could be potentially at risk.”

Pennington said information about someone’s license plate in the wrong hands could be dangerous. 

Flock Safety said only the client has access to the recorded information, and it is not tracked or saved by the company. 

Cronenberg said three people in the HOA have access to the system, and the information is kept for about a month. If they choose, they can share that information with police.

The HOA is currently working to give police access to use the system so that they can use it to track stolen or wanted drivers thought their license plate numbers. The system would automatically alert a dispatcher and send an officer to the area where the vehicle was traced.

For Cronenberg, the system works, and it comes at an affordable price for her community.

Flock Safety says there are license plate readers in 19 communities in the area.

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