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Buda evaluates new safety cameras

By C.J. Vetter

BUDA – As the city of Buda continues to evaluate the possibility of purchasing cameras, one neighborhood already has them installed. 

The cameras are currently in use in the Garlic Creek subdivision, along other installations in cities like San Marcos and Houston – yet questions are still circulating around the new system.

Flock Safety, the company that manufactures the cameras and maintains the network, is a private organization that partners with local communities and law enforcement to help install and manage automatic license plate readers (ALPR). The cameras are capable of capturing not only license plate details, but the make, model and color of the car. It can even capture if the plate has been obscured or what state the plate may have come from, as well as when the vehicle entered the area and when it may have left. 

The company has several steps in place to protect user data. Footage and data gathered by cameras are encrypted through its existence, and are only stored on the cameras until they are  uploaded to a cloud service, after which the camera’s footage is deleted. Any data uploaded is also defaulted to be deleted after 30 days. Flock Safety also guarantees that no footage or data is ever shared or sold. Residents of the surveillanced area may also opt to have their vehicle be excluded from all recordings by the camera system. 

“We looked into it a little bit,” said Valerie Evans, Garlic Creek HOA board member. “[We]thought that with the crime going on in our neighborhood, although not a lot …  We thought this would help our residents feel a little safer in their homes.” 

Garlic Creek was the first subdivision in Buda to partner with Flock, and installed six cameras under the direction of its homeowners association following a rise in crimes over the years. Data captured by the cameras is then stored within the cloud until requested by the Hays County Sheriff’s Office as part of an investigation. While no partnership has been officially made with the Buda Police Department (BPD), the Hays County Sheriff’s Office is able to dispatch the BPD. 

“A safe and healthy city is not just a police department,” said Freddy Erdman, Community Affairs Officer. “This a prime example of that. Someone taking the initiative to say that we want to do our part to keep our city safe and crime free. That’s something that we encourage as a department and as a community first division on the crime prevention angle.”

The BPD had previously given a presentation and submitted a request to the city council on May 17 in regards to a grant in order to purchase or lease cameras from Flock Safety, but the council tabled the decision. If the grant was approved, the BPD would be able to install up to six APLR cameras from Flock Safety in key areas in Buda and directly access the footage.

“We are proactive,” said Jeffery Morales, Garlic Creek HOA board member. We’re hoping that criminals stay out of our neighborhood  now, once they see it. We hope it’s a deterrent and an investigative tool for law enforcement.”

Currently, the city has not yet brought the grant off of the table, preferring to see what benefits the system will bring to places that already have it in use, such as Garlic Creek, before opting to use it citywide.

“We want to have an informed public and we want to be as transparent as possible through this implementation,” Erdman said. “Learning about the system, how data is collected and stored, how we audit the data,  accountability and transparency, and understanding how data can be used and utilized for investigative and not just reactive, but proactive measures such as responding to stolen vehicles. This is a new technology and we want to learn how to use it first.”

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