from the traffic-enforcement-is-truly-the-new-homicide-division dept
There’s a new player in the automated license plate reader arena. Rekor Systems is a bit different. While it does sell its own cameras, it also sells software that turns existing cameras into plate readers. It recently contributed a couple of sponsored posts to Police1 touting its ability to fight all sorts of dangerous crime.
Rekor’s system makes it easy for officers to detect and apprehend stolen/wanted vehicles. But ease of use is just the beginning: By apprehending stolen/wanted cars sooner, police departments can actually prevent crime.
About three-quarters of crimes involving the use of a motor vehicle before, during or after the offense are committed using a stolen vehicle.
According to Rekor, this will also contribute to officer safety because “too many times” officers are “assaulted or even killed” during “routine roadside checks.” To be sure, the number of times this has happened is greater than zero. But it’s not the epidemic Rekor implies it is as it pitches its products. Policing in America remains a pretty safe occupation, considering the job revolves around apprehending criminals.
What kind of crime is Rekor preventing? Its other sponsored post suggests it’s not so much preventing crime as just relocating it. Somehow, the “prosperous bedroom community” of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee (pop. 35,000) has convinced itself it needs 39 Rekor cameras to police its streets. According to local cops, criminals were driving into Mt. Juliet to do crimes. And now this network of cameras is leading to dozens of arrests.
“We’ve surpassed 100 successful interceptions,” said [MJPD Captain Tyler] Chandler. “We’ve recovered over 60 stolen cars, 36 stolen plates, four stolen trailers, two missing juveniles and 40 wanted persons.”
Sounds great. But here’s what Rekor is also enabling: widespread surveillance of drivers largely for the purpose of generating revenue.
The Oklahoma District Attorneys Council launched the Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Program (UVED) in 2018 in an attempt to clamp down on uninsured drivers. Rekor and the council tout the program as a relative improvement for the uninsured. Instead of receiving a criminal court summons and a $250 fine, uninsured motorists captured by Rekor’s cameras, which are mounted on utility poles and mobile trailers, are sent a violation notice to their home, hit with a $174 citation, and must enroll in an insurance policy through Rekor’s insurance portal. “It’s keeping that person out of the court system,” Rekor Executive Vice President Charles Deglimini told OneZero. “The District Attorney’s Council set this program up in Oklahoma to declaw this tremendous amount of friction that’s caused by uninsured motor vehicle accidents.”
It’s not so much keeping someone out of the court system as it is funneling more revenue directly to Rekor. Rather than obtain insurance using whatever method they’d prefer, drivers are forced to route their purchase through Rekor, which presumably harvests as much personal info as possible while providing this “service.”
And it’s not really a diversion from the court system. If the person can’t afford the citation or is unable to acquire insurance through Rekor’s portal, they’re still going to end up facing criminal charges. The state claims prosecutorial discretion will be exercised when people are truly unable to pay, but that’s something that tends to work a whole lot worse in practice than in theory.
For all the money that’s gone into it, the uninsured driver (surveillance) program isn’t really solving the problem it’s supposed to be addressing. Perhaps more distressingly (at least for state officials and Rekor), there hasn’t been much return on investment.
So far, the UVED program hasn’t achieved its ambitious goals. In 2015, the Insurance Information Institute estimated 10.5% of drivers were uninsured in Oklahoma. By 2019, that figure rose to 13.4%. In 2017, Sensys Gatso Group predicted that it would issue 20,000 notices per month. By the end of its two-year contract, according to Couch, about 90,300 notices had been sent in total. In 2020, Gatso announced that the program was not economically feasible because the overall enrollment rate from uninsured drivers was low. To date, Couch said, the program has enrolled “over 25,000 citizens.”
Then there’s the insurance itself. Rates often have nothing to do with how clean your driving record is. Instead, it relies on other factors like zip code, credit score, and occupation. This means that drivers in Oklahoma (and elsewhere in the nation) with low credit scores and no serious moving violations can pay more than drivers with higher credit scores and multiple violations.
Drivers aren’t driving without insurance because they’re anarchists trying to stick it to the system. In almost every case, it’s simply because they can’t afford it. Stacking fines and fees on top of preexisting money problems isn’t going to suddenly turn things around for uninsured drivers. That much can be observed in the low response rate to the citations sent out by the Rekor-powered surveillance network. And the whole things is at odds with Rekor’s sales pitches that emphasize the system’s ability to identify and take down dangerous criminals.