By Alia Sinclair

Police Chief Troy Smithmeyer addressed questions from the City Council about adopting the surveillance camera system FLOCK at Tuesday night’s (Mar. 26, 2024) SeaTac City Council meeting. 

Police Chief Smithmeyer and FLOCK representative Kyle Egkan addressed concerns the City Council has about adopting FLOCK, a surveillance software used to identify vehicles based on photos of license plates.

Chief Smithmeyer presented the adoption of FLOCK to the Council earlier this year. After several concerns voiced by the Council, it was determined that Chief Smithmeyer would return at a later date to address the Council’s concerns.

Here is the full list of questions raised by the Council and their subsequent answers:

1. How do these cameras comply with current privacy laws and regulations?

a. Flock cameras are in full compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local privacy laws.

b. Data is encrypted end to end in AWS Cloud, that is located within the US, and we are SOC 2 and 3 compliant.

c. Flock Hardware is NDAA Compliant

d. Your PD’s policy will govern the use of the technology in accordance with local laws.

2. How do the cameras protect people’s private information and ensure they are not used for constant monitoring?

a. Flock ALPR cameras do not collect any kind of personal information or any information related to people. It only collects data on vehicles, such as vehicle make, model, and color. Additionally, our standard data retention period is 30 days, after which it is hard deleted and not recoverable. Finally, data collected with Flock cameras is not shared or sold by Flock to anyone. Your agency and police department is the only one with access to the data, and only you can choose who you share the data with.

3. How long will data from the cameras be stored, and can this period be adjusted based on need or legal requirements?

a. 30 days is standard, but we can change the retention period according to your agency’s needs, ensuring that any changes are always in compliance with local, state, and federal laws governing data retention, as these can vary state by state.

4. What is the process for deleting data that is no longer needed, and how is this documented?

a. All data has a time to live stamp of 30 days. Meaning each image is marked for hard deletion at exactly 30 days.

b. We can connect your IT team with our product team to review the data retention protocol in further detail if desired.

Who has access to this data, and what safeguards prevent misuse or theft?

c. Your agency owns the data and only they can share it with other law enforcement agencies within the Flock system for legal law enforcement purposes. All searches your officers or officers of an agency perform require a search reason, your policy will require that that be a case number. All searches are auditable.

5. Can we set specific rules for what the cameras are used for, such as only finding stolen cars or catching criminals?

a. Yes. Rules or criteria can be put in place such as looking for only stolen vehicles, or specifically looking for hot listed vehicles.

6. How will we ensure these rules are followed and not used for unnecessary tracking

a. The Flock system provides your department with a robust audit. Your department will be able to share a summary of this audit if requested/ desired.

7. Have these cameras been proven to reduce crimes like auto theft in other cities?

a. The data shows that Flock Safety cameras such as Falcon’s reduce crime substantially in communities that use our technology, and it happens very quickly after deployment. There are numerous cases and reports that prove the effectiveness of Flock’s technology in reducing crime.

8. Can they be integrated smoothly with our current public safety tools?

a. Yes, our platform allows your department to log in to our web portal through their MDTs or desktop computers. We also provide integrations to several systems commonly used by law enforcement such as

 9. How do we ensure the cameras don’t unfairly target specific communities or individuals?

a. The deployment of your camera network is devised only by looking at traffic patterns, crime patterns and departmental goals. No racial or economic demographics are taken into account. The cameras themselves only capture vehicle information, no information on people. Your department’s policy will guide how the department uses the information gathered from the system.

10. What measures are in place to prevent bias and ensure fair use across all neighborhoods?

See above.

11. What are the initial and ongoing costs associated with these cameras?

a. Our cameras are $3,000 per year per camera. This includes maintenance and access to the Flock Software.

12. How long do they last, and what are the expected maintenance needs?

a. We are a software as a service company, we maintain all of the cameras for you for the life of your contract. If any cameras are defective at any time they are replaced by Flock.

13. Can we set up a public-facing dashboard showing how many license plates were scanned, how many stolen cars were identified, how many crimes were solved with this technology, and how often the data was looked at?

Yes. Transparency portal

14. Also, can we show information on how we’re making sure everything is done right and safely to help people feel more secure and show the cameras are a good investment?

a. Yes, your department can use the transparency portal to highlight how it’s using the system, its ROI and its policy.

The adoption of FLOCK would aid in expediting the identification of perpetrators, specifically in vehicle theft and missing persons cases.

SeaTac has seen a 34% increase in stolen vehicles since 2022 and human trafficking cases are also on the rise. The use of FLOCK will give the police the ability to identify and take action on crimes more quickly.

The initial cost of the system is $197,500 with an annual subscription fee of $93,500 for each subsequent year. The initial cost includes camera installation, taxes, and a subscription to the FLOCK software. The project will be funded with the existing police budget. 

Councilmember Peter Kwon spoke in favor of adopting the program, citing its success in other jurisdictions:

“I have spoken with other elected officials in South King County who already have FLOCK and asked them, ‘hey, how is it working out for you guys, what do you think?’ So far, every councilmember that I’ve talked to in South King County, they love it. Then said, ‘hey, it absolutely reduced crime, pretty quickly.’ Not by preventing it, but by being able to apprehend the criminals. That sends a message out to other criminals that says, ‘hey, if you come into this city, you’re going to get caught.”

Alia Sinclair is a writer residing in SeaTac. She is passionate about the arts and connecting people through the written word, and is the founder and editor-in-chief of Patchwork Mosaic magazine for creatives.