How the state’s first “Flock Safety” camera busted car thieves in Madison

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 7:02 PM CDT
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MADISON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Technology never used before in South Dakota was used to bust stolen vehicles twice within a span of 24 hours on Monday and Tuesday.

About four months ago, the Madison Police Department spent almost $30,000 on automated license plate reading technology, a product out of Atlanta called Flock Safety.

And twice in two days, the investment paid off.

It started late Monday afternoon, when officers received a text about vehicle with a stolen license plate. This, after one of their new, $2,500 “Flock Safety” cameras captured a snapshot of the plate.

”They take pictures of the back of the vehicle and those back rear license plates,” said Chief Justin Meyer, who has overseen the department for seven years. “They check them for stolen license plates, stolen vehicles. Is this vehicle associated with a wanted person, perhaps?”

In this case, it was. The car was stolen four hours away in Monticello, Minnesota, near the Twin Cities.

The driver, 47-year-old Shane Jensen, had active warrants from Moody County and Minnesota, and was charged for possession of stolen property, open container in a motor vehicle, driving while revoked, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The passenger, 51-year-old Kristy Williams, was taken into custody for warrants out of Codington County.

They were pulled over and arrested without incident.

”More than likely, that vehicle would probably have passed through town without us ever knowing, and that’s one of the reasons we looked to invest in this system,” Meyer said.

Flock Safety was created five years ago. It is based out of Atlanta, and used in 2,000 cities in forty U.S. states.

”We are helping law enforcement around the country solve roughly 600 to 700 crimes every day,” Flock Safety public relations director Holly Beilin said. “That’s approaching almost four percent of reported crime.”

Flock Safety says its system takes human bias — from police, suspects, and eyewitnesses — out of the process.

”These vehicles were on a state database, Beilin said. “The license plate was known to be stolen. Completely objective evidence.”

After a few months in operation, Monday’s arrest was the first made in South Dakota history using the camera.

The next morning, the same camera caught another stolen vehicle, this one from Sioux Falls. That driver was also apprehended at the same intersection.

Meyer, who has a background in investigation, wanted a faster and more effective way to identify crime in Madison. There was a public meeting in early May about the $25,000 he wanted the city to invest in the cameras, and another $3000 to $4000 in upgraded computer software that goes along with it.

He said he was met with little resistance.

”We’re going to stop them from committing further crimes in our community,” said of drivers of stolen vehicles who come in to Madison, “which in turn makes our community safer, and if the word gets out that we got these, maybe it prevents others from coming here in the future.”