By Matt Clevenger
TROY — Members of the Troy City Council approved a $57,150 contract with Flock Group Inc. to provide automatic license plate reading cameras for the city.
“When there’s a crime in the community and a car flees, we can look at the camera,” Mayor Robin Oda said. “We may have a description of the car but nobody got a license plate; we can check those cameras and see where that car was fleeing, and possibly identify the car through the camera.”
“That’s the intent; being able to catch somebody who’s fleeing a scene,” Oda said.
Council members approved the contract during their regularly scheduled meeting held on Monday, April 17; Council member Samuel Pierce voted against the cameras. Council member Lynne Snee was absent from the meeting.
“I have some serious concerns,” Pierce said, citing recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and Akron-Beacon Journal on Flock Group’s parent company, Matrix Investments of China.
“Matrix not only owns part of Flock, but Genwa, a data-mining company based in China,” Pierce said.
Fine print in the Flock Group contract could allow the company to transfer information from local plate readers to a foreign country like China, Pierce said.
“The terms and conditions state that the customer grants Flock a non-exclusive, irrevocable and worldwide royalty-free license to use customer-generated data for the purpose of providing Flock’s service,” he said. “Congress is currently debating Chinese companies that are getting data from our children’s cell phones. We are here seeking to approve to give away additional information, and pay for that service at the same time.”
“I have other concerns, when it comes to civil liberties,” Pierce said.
Council member Jeffrey Whidden also voiced concerns over the contract.
“I had a lot of the same concerns when this program was first brought up,” Whidden said. “I did see that Matrix Partners was a partner of Flock. At the end of the day it’s a close call, but I do think the ends justify the means in this particular scenario, and I did look very hard and I was very critical of this system.”
“I saw a lot of the same concerns you saw,” Whidden said. “I’m not sure if I made my complete peace with it.”
Troy Police Chief Shawn McKinney also spoke during the meeting, answering council members’ questions about the plate reader system, which will also allow police to search for cars by color and make in a specific area.
“This is the only vendor that offers the search capabilities,” McKinney said. “That is the reason people are going to Flock; you can search by color and make, in a specific time frame in a specific area.”
“It’s extremely useful in solving crimes,” he said. “We’ve used them for shopliftings, when the witness gets a description of the vehicle but doesn’t get a plate. I’ve seen them used in hit-skips, or leaving the scene of an accident.”
Many other local communities already use the plate readers, McKinney said. The county is purchasing eight of the cameras; Tipp City has approximately eight or 10 cameras, and the park district also has five.
“Several of our county parks have them,” McKinney said. “If there’s an incident of criminal damaging or vandalism to a park, we then have an idea of all the cars that have left that park. They also market these to homeowners’ associations, so they know who is coming and going through a gated community.”
Flock Safety public relations associate Holly Beilin also issued a statement on the plate reader system after the meeting.
”Flock Safety does not have a parent company based in China,” Beilin said. “Flock is a wholly U.S.-based company headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. We took a minority investment from the U.S. venture firm, Matrix Partners and have no affiliation with Matrix Investments of China.”
“Flock does not and cannot share customer information with any third parties,” Beilin said. “This is because, per our contract, customers (in this case, the city of Troy) own 100% of their data. Flock does not retain ownership of any of the data.”
In other business, council members also approved a resolution authorizing renewal of the city’s opt-out electric aggregation program through the Miami Valley Communications Council (MVCC).
“MVCC is consolidating bidding for electric aggregation on behalf of a number of political subdivisions,” Council member Todd Severt said. “Even though Troy’s current agreement runs until year end, Troy would like to be included in the bid, and then connect to the agreement with the electric power aggregator when the current agreement expires.”
Council members also approved the appointment of Donna Roen and Susan Barhorst to the City Beautification Committee, for terms expiring on June 30, 2024, and honored Rumpke “Look Who’s Recycling” award winner Cindy Ryman. Council members also heard an announcement regarding a recent D-1 liquor application for Craft Event Bar Collective LLC, located at 12 N. Cherry St.
“Our permit quota is 14; the permits issued are 12, the permits available would be two, and there are three applications on file,” Severt said.
Council members also approved the rezoning of a property located at 1271 Brukner Drive from M-2 to PD-1, and voted to accept the final plat for Halifax Estates, section six. Council members also heard the second reading of an ordinance to approve the rezoning of property at 15 S. Oxford St. from B-2 to OR-1. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held on Monday, May 1.
Council also heard updates on the city’s paving program for 2023, and residential trash and recycling rates from Director of Public Service and Safety Patrick Titterington.
“We’ve done the analysis of residential trash and recycling rates,” Titterington said. “We are not recommending any increase at this time.”
“We are at $17.50 per month,” he said. “We’re recommending that for the foreseeable future, we don’t have to look at increasing those rates.”
The city’s paving program had budgeted $1.5 million to re-pave an estimated 15.68 lane-miles for 2023.
“Bids came out a little higher,” Titterington said. “We will be able to repave a little over 13-lane-miles of sections of roads throughout the town.”
Council members closed their meeting by honoring two recently retired Troy Police Officers.
“We had two police officers who retired recently,” Council member Sarah Marshall said. “Scott Gates, who had 30-plus years of service, and Officer Jim Short, who had 25 years of service. We wish them well, and congratulations.”