‘Shocking violation:’ Lake County commissioners order takedown of secret surveillance cameras

Flock Safety installed about 100 cameras in new pilot program to fight crime

TAVARES, Fla. – Surveillance cameras are being taken down across Lake County after commissioners say they didn’t know about them in the first place.

According to the Lake County Sherriff’s Office, surveillance cameras were installed around the county in July under a new pilot program to help fight crime, but county commissioners said the cameras have to go.

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“At this point, they need to remove them. Charge them for removing them,” said one commissioner during a county board meeting earlier this week.

Lake County commissioners said they are sending a cease-and-desist letter to Flock Safety after the company installed surveillance cameras that monitor license plates and vehicle details.

Around 100 cameras were installed across Lake County and are used to assist with Amber Alerts or vehicle thefts.

“It’s shocking they even put them in places where they never would’ve been approved in the first place had they gotten the appropriate approval,” said Commissioner Josh Blacke, who brought up the topic in a board meeting after learning about the cameras on social media.

After doing some research, he said he found out about the pilot program, which was approved by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in July.

Other commissioners said it was their first time hearing of the temporary pilot program.

According to the sheriff’s office, the tech company was scheduled to install cameras in areas that didn’t require a permit, but commissioners said that’s not the case.

“It is a violation of procedure and, quite frankly, the law for them to do this, and I think in the strongest possible terms have them get rid of these things in the next 24 hours,” Blacke said

Flock Safety responded to the board decision in a statement:

“Flock Safety contracted directly with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, and we worked with their team to select locations. Cameras were installed a few weeks ago. Not all locations require permits, and there was an honest miscommunication about the need for permits at some of these sites. Since we learned of this mistake, we are starting to remove all the cameras immediately. We have installed 1000s of cameras around the country, including all over Florida, and our team moves very quickly. As I mentioned before, we want to help LCSO solve crime quickly, which has already proven effective during this pilot period. This technology has proven time and again to solve crime while mitigating biases.

Since 70% of crime happens with a vehicle, we focus on license plates and vehicle details. We do not use facial recognition technology and do not sell data to third parties.

One other note, by default, all footage is deleted every 30 days on a rolling basis. And no one can pull footage older than 30 days per our default settings. Agencies can download and save an individual license plate as evidence for longer than 30 days, per their evidence retention policies. The only caveat to our data retention policy is that if a democratically elected governing body or person has a written law or policy with a data retention limit beyond 30 days, we will adhere to that policy.”

Blacke said that after this ordeal, he’ll be doing everything to ensure there will be no similar cameras in Lake County again.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has since terminated the pilot program with Flock Safety and said if there is a change of heart from commissioners on the program, it is willing to revisit the topic, saying the tool can be a benefit to help the agency fight crime.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office also sent a statement responding to the board’s decision:

“The company reached out to us last year regarding their product and eventually came to the sheriff’s office and provided a demonstration as to how it works. Representatives offered to install them at certain locations that would be considered valuable, based upon the volume of traffic, for a testing-and-evaluating period. The Company started installing cameras on July 12, 2021, under an approved temporary pilot program. The company representative stated the company would install the cameras at locations that do not require permitting. According to Lake County, the company installed cameras on County properties which do require permitting. Yesterday, Lake County declined Flock’s proposal to install cameras on County property where permits were required and voted to remove the cameras.

While this technology is incredibly beneficial and helps our detectives solve crimes, the sheriff’s office terminated the pilot program with this company. We will, however, should Lake County approve, revisit the use of this technology given the benefits that such a system provides.”

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.