Thursday, February 9, 2023

Flock Safety camera that reads license plates Credit: Flock Safety YouTube

New police tech for college

Georgia Southern University is adding 14 license-plate reading cameras, powered by artificial intelligence, to its campuses in Savannah and Statesboro. 

The cameras from Atlanta-based Flock Safety automatically tag license plates that come into view, comparing them against local police watch lists and state and federal warrant databases, before instantly flagging law enforcement. GSU Police Chief Laura McCullough said the new cameras will be pointed at entry and exit points but will also be able to pick up some cars driving on main roads just outside the campuses.

Why does a college need automatic license plate reading cameras? McCullough said that because GSU has open campuses and “a lot of traffic that is not necessarily faculty, staff and students,” the cameras are an “extra eye” and added layer of security. 

The camera expansion, slated for installation by fall semester, comes amid a nationwide debate over police technology and privacy. Flock Safety contracts with police departments, businesses, homeowners associations, and other groups in 1,500 cities, according to its website.

It has come under scrutiny for creating a national network of surveillance by pooling customer data. Some gated communities employ Flock cameras to flag cars of “non-residents.” The American Civil Liberties Union points to how warrant databases don’t always get updated, causing license plate cameras to potentially generate dangerous encounters with police over bad information. 

For GSU, however, McCullough told The Current the tech will help battle car thefts and break-ins on campus.

“We’ll be able to get a good picture of either the vehicle or the person,” she said, “And our guys are pretty good at reaching out and identifying folks and being able to bring them in for questioning.”

Programming note

The Current is investigating phone, video, and messaging fees for people in county jails in Coastal Georgia. Have you or a loved one experienced fees for staying in touch? Use our form to let us know and help us look into the practice:

Daniel Defense founder Marty Daniel (right) with new CEO Rod Reasen (center) at a gun convention. Credit: Facebook screenshot

Daniel Defense CEO steps down

Bryan County-based gunmaker Daniel Defense has a new CEO, replacing its longtime founder from Georgia with a healthcare data executive from Indianapolis. 

Founder Marty Daniel has stepped aside but remains on Daniel Defense’s board, while Rod Reasen has taken over as chief executive officer, according to a public relations release. Reasen previously ran a healthcare data company called SpringBuk, which advised businesses on collecting health information from its employees and then using that information to decide on company-wide healthcare, according to a podcast interview with Reasen.

Reasen officially started the job on Monday. He met Daniel in a “CEO peer group five years ago,” the release said.

“We are both entrepreneurs, and both have the desire to grow God’s kingdom. Rod has been highly successful in his career, and I am confident he is the right leader to take Daniel Defense to the next level,” Daniel said.

Daniel did not step aside in a vacuum. A gun manufactured by the Black Creek-based weapons company was used last May by a gunman who killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tx.

Marty Daniel took the company from a local firearms manufacturer to a major industry player, counting $120 million in profits from assault rifles alone in 2021. Much of that was achieved through its online sales of weapons, marketing stunts like its infamous Superbowl ad, and – as lawsuits allege – marketing tactics that emphasize military association of its weaponry for impressionable young people. 

Daniel said he will remain active supporting “the Second Amendment thru legislative and social awareness and educational efforts.”

Keith Higgins
Brunswick-area DA Keith Higgins (right) posing for a photo after a presentation at the College of Coastal Georgia on Feb. 2, 2023. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

Update from the DA

Brunswick-area District Attorney Keith Higgins gave a presentation to Glynn County residents last week on how well his office is performing. Higgins did not take public questions afterwards to the chagrin of some of the around 60 attendees but he encouraged everyone to write questions on paper for his office to answer later over email.

The Current‘s Jake Shore was in attendance and a few points stood out to him:

  • The Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office is fully-staffed, says Higgins. That is a rarity among both prosecutors and police nationwide. Higgins said his office has 15 full-time assistant DAs.
  • “There will always be a backlog of cases,” Higgins said, “That’s a fact of life.” He said his office is still trying to reduce the backlogs, giving statistics on open cases.
    • Glynn County: 1933 open cases, 34% of total caseload
    • Camden County: 2552 open cases (including misdemeanors), 41% of total caseload
  • Pre-trial intervention: DA Higgins said his agency has used a grant to expand drug court and create a “substance abuse track” to shift some people entered into the criminal legal system into treatment and counseling instead of prison.
    • Note: This is not new by any means. Most judicial circuits already have a program like this Georgia has 166 drug treatment courts, according to the National Drug Court Resource Center.

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...