About 100 Houston-area neighborhoods using license plate readers

HOUSTON – In northwest Harris County, Westlake and Westlake Forest are among the newest neighborhoods in the Houston-area to use technology once only available to police: license plate readers.

Flock Safety, based in Atlanta, provides the cameras to neighborhoods at a cost of $2,000 per camera, per year.

Westlake and Westlake Forest have a total of six cameras. Installed just last week, the solar-powered devices record vehicles exiting the neighborhood. The cameras have already recorded 35,000 license plates.

Designated HOA board members have access to an internet site that allows them to see, every car and truck that leaves the neighborhood. The still frame generated from the camera allows those with access to see the time, date, car make and model and the license plate number. An image of the driver is not recorded.

Law enforcement also has access in most cases. For Westlake and Westlake Forest, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office can see the same photos. Law enforcement also has the ability to match the plate to the registered owner.

Recording every plate leaving the neighborhood can provide helpful evidence in the event of a crime, but even though Flock Safety prohibits “live viewing” of images in real-time and deletes images every 30 days, some neighbors are concerned about the privacy implications.

“It feels just too much like an invasion of privacy,” Jennifer Marquardt, a Westlake Forest resident said.

But even if Marquardt and others are not fans of their license plates being recorded, there are no laws against taking images of license plates on public streets.

Flock Safety appears to be doing brisk business in communities across the United States.

A company representative said Friday that there are about 100 communities in the Houston area that use their equipment.