About a year ago, Brian Davidson spotted a crew installing a 14-foot pole in the middle of his neighbor’s well-manicured lawn. When he walked next door to ask what was happening, he learned that his homeowner association’s board of directors near Dallas, Texas, was installing automated license plate readers (ALPRs) in order to prevent crime. “[My neighbor] had no idea it was even done,” Davidson tells OneZero. “No one was given permission … they just stuffed it in there.”
Davidson’s neighbor asked the homeowner association, called Bedford Stonecourt, to remove the pole from his yard, and the crew did. The next day, they moved it onto the lawn of a West Point graduate, someone Davidson describes as “not to be f*cked with.” “He’s just like ‘get it out, get it out.’ So they removed it from his lawn,” Davidson says. On the third try, the crew mounted the pole on a chunk of shared land.
According to Flock Safety, the manufacturer of the ALPR system installed at Bedford Stonecourt, the device creates a “fingerprint” for every vehicle that enters a neighborhood with a “proprietary machine learning algorithm.” Flock’s website boasts that “the software categorizes each automobile by model (car, truck, motorcycle, etc.) as well as color and groups the info together into a single vehicle profile.”
ALPR technology, invented in 1976 by the U.K.’s Police Scientific Development Branch, has become a popular law enforcement tool over the past decade and is now commonly used to track down alleged lawbreakers, to gather information about vehicles of interest, and to track down individuals who owe fines.
But now, ALPR companies are targeting the private realm as well. “Live in an HOA or neighborhood? Work in law enforcement?” reads the intro text on Flock’s website. In either case, the call to action is the same: “Use license plate readers to capture evidence and stop crime.” The company, which was founded in 2017, claims 700,000 neighbors in 400 cities and 35 states live in communities that rely on its technology.