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Racine PD to install Flock license plate readers, audio sensors in secret location to help solve crimes

The police department says crime detection audio sensors will be placed in an undisclosed area. Some residents think they deserve to know if they’re constantly being tracked.
Racine police purchase  technology
Posted at 3:17 PM, Aug 11, 2022

RACINE, Wis. — Racine police are turning to high-tech devices to help solve crimes after a spike in shootings.

The Racine Police Department just purchased license plate recognition devices that will be installed throughout the city. On top of that, the police department says crime detection audio sensors will be placed in an undisclosed area. Some residents think they deserve to know if they’re constantly being tracked.

In a city of 78,000 people, crime is rattling residents like Omunique Monroe.

"The crime just shot straight up,” she said. “It's worse than I've ever seen it in my life."

So far this year, police say eight people have been murdered in Racine. Wisconsin Department of Justice data shows that’s more than the last two full years combined.

"Some of these shots fired, it's not always at night,” said Racine Police Chief Maurice Robinson. “We've had gun fights in the afternoons, so we need to keep everyone as safe as we possibly can and utilize every piece of technology and equipment that’s available to us.”

RELATED: Racine approves referendum to ask voters for a tax hike to pay for more police officers

Chief Robinson says two types of technology will soon help officers respond to crimes and catch suspects more quickly.

"And even more importantly, to recover a citizen's stolen property before it gets used in a crime,” he said.

The city approved a reoccurring annual purchase of crime detection audio devices along with license plate readers from Flock Safety. Josh Thomas with Flock Safety says 7 in 10 crimes are committed with a vehicle.

"The way that they work together is the second that our audio detection identifies a gunshot which by the way has a 97 percent accuracy rating, when it identifies a gunshot, instantly all the license plate readers in the area will snap a picture. So that law enforcement can go from gunshot to the license plates in that area instantly,” Thomas explained.

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Thomas says their technology operates differently than its competitor, ShotSpotter, which is used in Milwaukee to notify police when shots are fired. Thomas says Flock Safety’s audio sensors detect noises of all sorts of crimes.

"A person screaming at the top of their lungs, glass breaking maybe in a business park at 2 a.m., screeching tires when it comes to illegal street racing, or the sound of metal cutting on metal,” Thomas said. “We know catalytic converter theft has been rising year over year."

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Racine is just shy of 16 square miles, but since the audio detection technology is more expensive, it will only be installed in about a fifth of the city where police say crime is occurring at the highest rate. Chief Robinson says that location will remain a mystery for those outside of the police department.

“If this coverage is three square miles, I’d imagine residents who live in that area would like to know,” reporter Ben Jordan said during an interview with Chief Robinson. "I'm sure they would, but so would the criminals, so we're going to leave that at that,” Chief Robinson replied.

The American Civil Liberties Union known as the ACLU has criticized Flock Safety’s technology being used by law enforcement across the country due to privacy concerns. The ACLU says constant surveillance of noncriminal activities could infringe on people’s First Amendment rights.

“I would say that we can’t listen to conversations, the algorithms are not designed to catch conversations,” Chief Robinson said. “Also, the license plate reader cameras are not facial recognition. It is strictly for automobiles, so we’re trying to provide the tools available to help make your neighborhood safe.”

RELATED: Racine County expands anti-violence programs following rise in crime

Monroe thinks people who live near the audio devices deserve to know they are being listened to, but overall, she thinks it’s a necessary investment.

"It has its pros and cons because we do deserve our privacy, but at the same time we deserve to be protected as well,” she said.

Chief Robinson says if the technology proves to be ineffective, they can cancel the contract with 30 days' notice. Conversely, if it resolves crimes in the initial area, the devices can be moved elsewhere in Racine.

Chief Robinson couldn’t provide TMJ4 with an exact date when the technology will be installed. He says some street lighting needs to be improved first, but he says they’ll be in place sometime this fall.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason sent TMJ4 News the following statement regarding the recent purchase of Flock Safety technology:

"This year we have seen a significant rise in gun violence and the community is demanding that we do more to get guns off of our streets. In order to do that, we must give our officers the tools they need to keep us safe and the Flock systems are meant to do just that. However, accountability is key. It will be important for the Police Department to demonstrate the successes of using the new equipment while also showing that we protect the privacy of our residents. I believe the Racine Police Department will be able to do that."

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