LaGrange approves $125k amendment to purchase 50 new police cameras

Published 9:30 am Thursday, December 24, 2020

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The LaGrange City Council unanimously approved a budget amendment that will allow the LaGrange Police Department to purchase 50 new police cameras.

The amendment to increase the amount budgeted for police cameras to $185,000 passed at Tuesday night’s council meeting. The city had already budgeted $60,000 for police cameras in this year’s budget, so the amendment will allocate an additional $125,000.

The cameras will cover 15 intersections throughout the city. At the council’s work session on Tuesday morning, LPD Lt. Dale Strickland said the department currently has about 50 license plate recognition (LPR) cameras covering 12 intersections. Another eight cameras made by Flock are moved around based on crime trends or requests.

Dekmar and the council had discussed adding more Flock and Platesmart cameras at the council retreat in August. Dekmar mentioned then that cameras are often the only lead they have in a criminal investigation and are frequently used to identify and track suspects. After the retreat, LPD did a review before bringing the council a recommendation, based on input from council members, citizens and crime trends.

The new round of cameras will bring the city’s total to about 92 cameras. They should be installed within a couple of months.

Council Member Mark Mitchell, a retired state trooper, has advocated for more cameras.

“We need 50 more next year … I’ve used [license plate readers] for decades,” Mitchell said.

LPD Chief Lou Dekmar said the cameras will create “a border, if you will, of all the ingress and egress of the city,” which allows LPD to track suspects entering and leaving town.

LPD hopes to add more Flock cameras, which capture plates and other details of cars.

“The other benefit of the flock is that they store in the cloud,” Dekmar said. “And it seems like every other year, we’re spending $70,000 to $90,000 for a server to store that data. And so that will relieve us of that responsibility.”

Strickland added that the growth in LaGrange, and the traffic it brings, has led to more and more data being stored on license plates.

Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Gaskin asked if the companies sell the data they collect to insurance companies or other places, and Dekmar said no.

Council Member Willie Edmondson also asked if the cameras could be damaged or destroyed. Strickland said that has not happened in years and if it did, the camera would still capture and transmit the moments leading up to it being destroyed.

Other law enforcement agencies can share data and information from their camera systems.

Dekmar said investigations were aided by cameras capturing plates in places like Peachtree City, Georgia, or as far as Mississippi.

The cost of the hardware and startup will be about $160,000. The software for the cameras will be $24,400 — in following years it will be $23,400.

The total cost over the next five years will be $274,000.

The possibility of adding even more cameras will be examined in next year’s budget cycle, Mayor Jim Thornton said.