Lake Forest Turns to Technology to Nab Criminals and Recover Stolen Cars

December 4, 2020 Updated: December 4, 2020

New intersection cameras are expected to help police in Lake Forest, California, more efficiently track down wanted criminals and stolen vehicles.

Multiple license-place reading cameras have been installed at two city intersections—Lake Forest Drive and Rockfield Boulevard, and El Toro Road and Rockfield Boulevard—to monitor traffic flow and instantly notify authorities of vehicles that were reported stolen or involved in other crimes.

The solar-powered cameras, which went into use in mid-November, were discussed during a virtual town hall hosted by the City of Lake Forest Nov. 30 to discuss ongoing safety initiatives.

Senior communications and marketing analyst Jonathan Volzke told The Epoch Times that although Lake Forest isn’t a violent city, some citizens have been victim to theft.

“It’s incredibly frustrating, disappointing, and can be a financial setback to someone to go out and find that their work truck has been broken into, the tools have been stolen, or that packages they were waiting for have been taken,” Volzke said.

“The true value that really makes [the cameras] a great public safety tool is that if there’s a license plate that’s been entered in the system, such as an Amber Alert, or someone they’re looking for in connection with a robbery or some other crime, it will automatically ping the deputies in the patrol cars who are logged into the system.”

The cameras were a partnership between Lake Forest and Atlanta-based Flock Safety. They capture license plate numbers and other images, and instantly notify authorities of vehicles that were reported stolen or involved in other crimes.

“Although we’re a very safe city, we do have some areas where I would say there’s more crime–statistically a little higher of a percentage than the city overall,” Mayor Neeki Moatazedi said during the livestreamed event.

“We started doing research and seeing what types of crimes that are occurring and how we can stop them.”

The cameras adhere to state guidelines, do not photograph faces, and aren’t used for traffic or immigration enforcement. They do not record video. Data is stored in the cloud for 30 days and then automatically erased, unless the city chooses to download it for police records.

Initial cost for the 10 cameras, including installation, was $43,333. Going forward, about $20,000 will be spent annually for maintenance, data hosting, and software access.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department Chief Chad Taylor said the cameras could provide officers with critical leads.

“Often we’ll have a vehicle description but no license plate,” he said during the webinar. “We’ll have a time frame that we’ll be able to pinpoint it down to.”

The cameras can also serve as a deterrent for would-be criminals, Taylor said.

“The criminal element in society is a tight knit group,” he said.

“Once the word gets out that they were caught on a license-plate reader going into a city, it spreads pretty quickly. And as weird as it sounds, your more sophisticated criminals may choose not to go into that city just because they know that technology is there and they don’t want to take the risk of getting caught.”