By Betsy Dolan
The City of Sugar Land is considering a nearly $3 million dollar city surveillance system in an effort to help deter crime but the plan may generate concerns about privacy.
Sugar Land’s Police Chief, Douglas Brinkley, has discussed the plan with the city council during two recent workshop sessions. SLPD has been working on a project to increase the use of video based technology and is also exploring the costs involved with accessing the video systems of outside organizations such as HOA’s and commercial businesses in an effort to help deter crime and to help catch suspects when a crime occurs.
If approved, the plan will be completed in two phases and will involve the purchase of 138 License Plate Recognition (LPR) cameras and 70 video cameras as well as infrastruture improvements to accommodate the technology.
There are already eight LPRs in the Town Square area of the city and the Sugar Land Police Department has access to an additional 47 cameras in the commercial district via a public/private partnership with First Colony Management District (FCMD). According to the SLPD, use of LPR and video cameras have resulted in the recovery of 11 stolen vehicles, 2 vehicles identified in theft cases at First Colony Mall, the arrest of two robbery suspects from video provided from the Eldridge Lakes HOA and provided evidence in 1 shooting case.
Brinkley told the council that a consultant identified traffic intersections and major thoroughfares that are high traffic or potential high crime areas to determine the optimal camera placement. Phase 1 would involve the purchase and installation of 57 LPRs, and 26 video cameras for the north end of the city. Phase 2 would include the purchase of 81 new LPRs and 44 cameras for the remainder of the city.
LPR’s can read hundreds of license plates per minute and electronically submit that data back to the police department. Brinkley told the council that due to concerns raised about privacy in a previous workshop discussion, the cameras will only be installed in public areas such as major intersections and thoroughfares. In addition, Brinkley said, the LPR’s will only capture license plate numbers as vehicles move past the camera as well as the color and make of the vehicle, not the faces of the occupants inside. In addition, vehicle identification information will only be accessed when it has specific connection to a crime or an on-going criminal investigation and all other data will be purged within a specific time frame.
Brinkley told the council that the increasing use of video technology by the City of Sugar Land and public / private entities such as Home Owners Associations and Management Districts has contributed to enhancing the safety and reduction of crime.