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Normal explores license plate-reading cameras

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The Town of Normal has been studying license plate-reading camera technology and could approve a contract as early as July.

The Town of Normal could soon join Bloomington in adding license plate-reading cameras.

Normal Police Chief Steve Petrilli told town council members during a work session on Monday the cameras only read rear license plates. He said the cameras can help police track stolen vehicles, which he said would help the police department solve crime.

Petrilli referenced a recent incident in which a shots fired incident in Normal stemmed from a carjacking in Chicago.

“Had that vehicle left the interstate and come into our community and we had this technology, we may have prevented that crime,” Petrilli said. “Those are stats you never really get to see: How many crimes do you prevent?”

Petrilli said the Normal Police Department already has a policy for how the cameras would be used, and he said it is modeled after policy the Springfield Police Department adopted and he said the ACLU and NAACP vetted it. Those groups have raised privacy concerns about the cameras.

The four town council members who attended Monday's work session didn’t specifically say whether they supported the cameras. They mostly asked Petrilli and Flock Safety’s vice president of external affairs, Josh Thomas, about the technology and how it would be implemented.

Thomas said the cameras can help communities struggling with police staff shortages and rising crime by providing evidence that can help police solve cases. He said the cameras sold by Flock safety help solve 500 crimes daily across the U.S.

He said more than 2,000 police agencies across the country use the Flock cameras, including about 120 in Illinois, adding the cameras are not used for traffic enforcement — unlike red light cameras — and do not use facial recognition.

Council member Stan Nord asked Thomas how the town can show transparency if the cameras are ever misused.

“I’m going to look for what controls are in place that people don’t go around the policy,” Nord said.

Thomas replied Flock offers a transparency portal that lists police vehicle searches, but it will not show individual vehicles and license plate numbers searched.

“That’s exactly what we want to do is preserve the integrity of the searches of that data that’s being used for specific law enforcement purposes,” Thomas said.

Petrilli said Normal would look to install about double the number of cameras that Bloomington installed earlier this year because the town doesn't currently use any surveillance cameras for public safety. That does not include the body cameras police officers wear.

Petrilli said the cameras would mostly be installed at town entrances and exits along interstates and near schools.

Thomas said each camera would cost the town $2,500 per year to cover maintenance and regular software updates.

Normal City Manager Pam Reece said the council will likely see a formal proposal next month.

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Corrected: June 22, 2022 at 1:56 PM CDT
This story has been clarified to indicate the ACLU vetted the Springfield Police Department's policy on license plate-reading cameras.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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