New tool helps county law enforcement

OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla., Feb. 19, 2022—Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is joining its counterparts across the country using a system designed to allow law enforcement to track vehicles involved in criminal activity through the use of license plate photos.

The Flock camera license plate reader system is being phased in over time, according to an OCSO news release.

Florida is one of the last areas to implement these types of cameras.

“Our neighbors to the west and east have these,” said Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden. “This is strictly used for the ability to help solve crimes.”

The system does not use facial recognition technology, deletes its data every 30 days on a rolling basis and does not sell data to third parties.

Additionally, the Flock system has strict measures in place to protect resident privacy.

The big advantage to the system is networking with surrounding law enforcement agencies already using the technology, as well as those across the country, according to Aden.

“This is a networking system to try and solve crime, find endangered children, children who were abducted, silver alerts, even welfare checks,” he said. “We’re able to network with law enforcement agencies all over– not just the state–but all over the country”

Information shows up on this system as a “hot list” of an abducted child, endangered adult or someone involved in a crime.

“We had a homicide about two weeks ago where Fort Walton’s license plate reader found our suspect in a very short order and allowed us to be able to get him apprehended in a very quick amount of time,” said Aden.

“It was critical to us to be able to locate this individual.  He could have been anywhere, but the license plate reader…was able to identify that he was here in the Fort Walton Beach area and no longer in the Crestview area,” he said.

Some systems such as these are used in patrol cars and some in a fixed position. The Sheriff’s Office has both, including mobile systems in 25 patrol cars.

“We used an application in both, because we wanted to try out which one we liked best,” said Aden.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office issued a Silver Alert for a missing Crestview man Feb. 15. He was found in Panama City using a license plate reader.

It’s already proven its worth in helping to locate a missing Crestview man who was found in Panama City.

“We were able to identify him not only in our county, but also in Panama City, Bay County. Subsequently, we were able to find him by reaching out to our partners in Bay County who were able to find him using license plate readers,” Aden said. “He was safe, but in need of medical attention.”

This technology is another tool to help fight crime regardless of county or state lines, according to the sheriff.

“Criminals use technology; it’s high time law enforcement uses technology that’s at their disposal,” he said. “Criminals don’t know jurisdictional lines and they don’t care.”

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