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Winston-Salem police testing out new license plate cameras

WSPD will take part in a pilot program to try license plate readers for free.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Winston-Salem Police will test license plate reading cameras in a free trial.

There are several of the same cameras across Greensboro. The city bought them last year to help fight crime. Now Winston-Salem hopes to do the same.

The city's Public Safety Committee heard the department's plan Monday. The same company that makes Greensboro's license plate readers, Flock Safety, offered WSPD a pilot program.

Flock Safety and Axon, which provides WSPD's body cameras, will pay for the license plate readers.

The city will get 25 cameras free for a year. Police said that's a value worth $71,000. The cameras are only used for certain crimes like stolen cars or Amber Alerts.

The cameras do not record video, just still images that the department said will be deleted after 30 days.

The city will only have to fund the cameras if they decide to keep them after the pilot program ends.

"WSPD believes this technology will be a complement to our ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection system, allowing officers to obtain descriptions of vehicles engaged in firing weapons on city streets," Chief Katrina Thompson and Assistant City Manager Patrice Toney wrote to city officials.

Police said the technology would be run out of the department's Real-Time Crime Center.

Greensboro installed 10 around the city at the end of 2021. Greensboro Police said they've been used to solve several cases ranging from stolen vehicles to shootings. GPD paid $27,500 to buy the cameras.

Winston-Salem officials are excited to bring the technology to their city with police staffing down by about 20 percent and crime rates up.

"We know that we're challenged right now to staff the police department fully and this gives us 25 extra sets of eyes out there," City council member John Larson said. "I think that's a huge advantage to the police department that we can handle digitally or electronically."

Winston-Salem Police still have to choose where to put the cameras. The department plans to spread them evenly among the city's eight wards based on crime data.

The department said there's no word on when the cameras will be installed or when that year-long trial will begin.

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