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Looking to combat crime, H.B. gated community turns to license plate reading cameras

flock
A solar-powered license plate reading camera captures traffic coming and going from the Seabridge Villas condominium community in Huntington Beach.
(Courtesy of Chad Frew)

In the increasingly high-tech world of home security, one Huntington Beach gated community is pushing the envelope on a neighborhood scale.

Seabridge Villas, located near the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Adams Avenue, has installed license plate reading cameras to document the comings and goings at the condominium complex, which is home to 344 residents.

Over the last two years, Seabridge residents say there have been eight incidents where cars have had their tires stolen while parked in one of the complex’s garages.

“In the last couple of years, it’s really ramped up,” said Chad Frew, a board member for the Seabridge homeowners association.

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“You do your due diligence,” added Frew, who moved into Seabridge in April, “but it’s an entirely different story when your tires are removed.”

As it looked to ramp up security, the HOA solicited bids for conventional camera systems, only to find they were “either very expensive or required a lot more infrastructure than we were prepared to pay for,” according to Frew.

The search eventually led Seabridge to Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based company that makes solar-powered license plate reading cameras that use motion-detecting shutters to capture images whenever a vehicle, cyclist, pedestrian or errant pet enters the frame.

Neighborhoods around Los Angeles are signing up for a new service: security cameras that automatically read the license plates of every car that drives by from a company called Flock Safety

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At a total cost of $4,000, Seabridge has leased two cameras for one year to monitor vehicles entering and leaving the community. They were installed about four months ago.

Frew acknowledged that some residents were at odds over the idea of heightened security, but said, “This isn’t an invasion of privacy; these are public areas.”

The cameras’ data is encrypted and can only be accessed by the property’s management company. However, any resident who has been the victim of a crime can get short-term access to collect photos or information that might be relevant for law enforcement. Images are automatically deleted after 30 days.

And what have been the results so far?

“Unfortunately, no smoking guns, per se,” Frew said. The HOA has received only one request for access to the data.

Seabridge residents also have been urged to register their vehicles into the system and “out of 344 residents, we’ve had around 65 people” do so, Frew said.

Frew said he is hopeful the cameras will have a positive impact, but conceded there isn’t a reliable way to monitor every front door and parking spot.

“Honestly, it’s more of a tool or resource,” he said. “That’s how it was brought to the community.”

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