CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (KDVR) — Millions of dollars lost are estimated to be the economic impact due to Colorado’s increasing stolen vehicle trend.

One company’s technology aims to help recover stolen vehicles and they said they’ve already had an impact on Colorado communities.

Flock Safety manages operating systems for public safety in cities and counties. Their goal is to help improve public safety with hardware and software. License plate reader cameras are one of those systems.

“A stolen vehicle is just another vehicle driving down the street. It’s really hard to recover these without a tool like license plate readers,” said Holly Beilin, spokesperson for Flock Safety.

How do license-plate readers work?

The license plate reader cameras are installed at different intersections in the city.

The camera scans the license plate of every car that drives by and cross-checks that with several databases used for criminal activity, like the FBI National Crime Information Center or The Amber Alert database. If any of those plates in the database is linked to a crime, it notifies the appropriate law enforcement agency almost instantly.

Flock said its main purpose is for auto theft and Amber Alert suspects. However, they believe this technology could help find suspects for crimes across the board.

“According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which tracks crime statistics across the board, 7 out of 10 crimes roughly are actually committed with a vehicle which makes sense if you think about it. We all use cars to get around, so do folks committing crimes. So about 70% of crimes will have a vehicle attached to that crime. So think about how useful of a lead this is for a detective investigating a case,” said Beilin.

Do license plate readers make a difference?

Flock said they have the numbers to prove it. Hudson, a town in northeastern Colorado, installed the cameras at the start of 2022 and since then, recorded a 1000% increase in stolen vehicle recoveries and a 50% decrease in the number of vehicles reported stolen. Hudson’s police chief is attributing the license plate reading technology as that deterrent.

Additionally, Castle Rock was one of the first cities where Flock Safety implemented its license-plate reader cameras. Flock said Castle Rock is the only city in Colorado that has not seen an increase in vehicle thefts.

Are license plate readers an invasion of privacy?

Some say these cameras are an invasion of privacy, but Flock Safety believes they can improve public safety while also making sure that our privacy is not infringed on.

Flock said the cameras can tell vehicle characteristics like color, make and model, and distinguishing characteristics like a roof rack. A spokesperson said they do not measure speed and have no way of seeing the driver to determine gender, race, or ethnicity.

Beilin said the LPR cameras don’t capture pedestrians waking by either, only cars.

“So it takes the extra step for police actually identifying a vehicle of interest in some sort of case and going into the DMV database or their own database to look up the person associated with our vehicle with that vehicle. Our system can’t do that. The technology doesn’t do that. So it’s not capturing any personally identifiable information or PII,” Beilin said. “If a vehicle like the vast majority of all vehicles captured is never involved in any crime, that data is only kept for 30 days and then it’s hard deleted and gone.”

Once the license plate information is sent to authorities, it takes an extra step for police to actually go into the DMV database or their own database to look up the person associated with that vehicle.