JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — In a 4-2 vote, the Johns Creek City Council approved a contract that will allow the police department to access footage from Flock security cameras installed by neighborhood homeowners’ associations.
The Sept. 23 vote followed an hour-long debate about privacy rights and the extent of powers granted to HOAs. Council members Johns Bradberry and Stephanie Endres cast votes against the contract.
The memorandum of understanding with Flock Safety was initially presented at a Sept. 9 work session alongside another contract with Ring, the company known for doorbell cameras. Police Chief and Acting City Manager Ed Densmore said he brought the contracts before the council because residents were asking for them.
“There’s a lot of vendors that have come to me over my time here that want to sell me something or get us to use something, and I take those very seriously,” Densmore said. “This one (Flock) was a little different. This one actually came from the citizens who had been emailing me, calling me about this product that they wanted me to sign the [contract].”
The agreement with Ring passed unanimously on the consent agenda. It grants police officers access to Ring’s Neighborhood platform and see which residents have Ring devices, making it easier for police to contact them.
Flock cameras are installed in neighborhoods to capture still photos of cars and license plates entering the subdivision. In Johns Creek, the cameras have only been installed on public-owned roads where there is not a legal expectation of privacy, Assistant City Attorney Ron Bennett said.
With Ring, no footage would be turned over to police without the individual homeowner’s permission. With Flock, data is owned by the neighborhood and managed by the HOA, a significant difference, some members on the council said.
“My concern is that the HOA really isn’t in touch with their residents,” Endres said. “I never elected my HOA board to decide whether I wanted to have my vehicle tracked and searched.”
Other council members pushed back.
“I think there are sufficient provisions in there to protect the innocent, to protect those that are just driving around,” Councilman Steve Broadbent said. “You can’t escape having your license plate read anywhere in the metro area. It’s just a fact of life today that we have to live with. I truly understand the privacy concerns but … it’s up to the residents to make sure that they understand the HOAs responsibility here and voice their input.”
With the agreement, the police will be able to access the images stored by the six neighborhoods that have Flock cameras. They will also be able to share national and state hot lists so Flock Safety will alert police if stolen or otherwise suspect vehicles pass one of the cameras.
This will create a more proactive approach to policing, Densmore said.
“The crime that we face more often than not in our city, if you go back and look at the crime stats, it’s property-based,” he said. “It’s entering autos and it’s burglaries that happen in residential areas. Those are very difficult for us to investigate. There’s not a lot of witnesses. There’s not a lot of physical evidence to follow up on.”
Flock would give police a piece of evidence if there is a crime and potentially prevent crimes from happening in the first place, Densmore said, giving an example of how the city’s tag readers were used to catch a team that was suspected of breaking into cars at gyms.
According to Flock Safety, neighborhoods that install cameras see a 30 to 50 percent reduction in crime.