The arrest of the Kechi police lieutenant puts flock technology to the test

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) — The Wichita Police Department has revoked the entire Kechi Police Department’s access to its “flock” camera system for reading license plates, confirmed WPD interim chief Troy Livingston.

That comes after the arrest of a Kechi lieutenant for illegally using the system to stalk his estranged wife. The WPD is exploring other ways to add safety measures to the system that the City of Wichita began using in 2020.

According to Livingston, “Flock” is an effective public safety tool, helping to solve murders, kidnappings and missing persons cases, as well as recovering hundreds of stolen cars. He also acknowledged that the system must be used responsibly, including combating abuse.

Flock license plate readers are practically another focal point on Wichita’s streets.

“If we have a good general description of a tag, that can somehow help us pinpoint where that suspect is, at least that suspect vehicle,” Livingston said. “It’s more efficient for officers to find this vehicle than to flood the area with officers.”

City leaders say they are seeing the benefits of these license plate reading cameras, but proper use of this technology is also a key concern.

“(We) need to make sure we have security, to make sure there’s no misuse or abuse, and we protect the privacy of our citizens,” said Jeff Blubaugh, a member of the Wichita City Council.

After former Kechi Police Lieutenant Victor Heiar used WPD’s Flock system to track his wife, Livingston said his department is reviewing its policies and procedures, including allowing other departments to access the system.

“For example, assigned supervisors from these agencies must review and approve data requests before we grant access to our flock system,” Livingston said.

He said the WPD will also review the system every week instead of every two weeks. A Flock Safety leader was in Wichita Friday meeting with the WPD. This head of security said the audit function is built into the system.

“Every single user in the system has a unique user ID that they need to log in with. Every keystroke he makes on the system is logged and is always available for the system administrator to audit and see how the system is being used.” explained Josh Thomas, vice president of external affairs at Flock Safety.

Thomas said the cameras take a picture of the back of every car that drives past and those photos are automatically deleted after 30 days unless they are part of an investigation.

“We do not have any personally identifiable information that we collect using the flock system. We don’t know who the people are, the drivers, the registered owners. We don’t have names and addresses,” Thomas explained.

He said the Kechi Lieutenant incident prompted them to look for other ways to protect their system from abuse.

“We believe it is our responsibility to make systems like this as difficult as possible to abuse and to make it as easy as possible to catch someone when there is abuse,” Thomas said.

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