New traffic cameras will give the Longboat Key Police Department access to a global database of suspects to help thwart crime.
Two violent crimes committed on Longboat Key in the past year broke a four-year streak without any, according to FBI statistics.
Now police have installed new technology they hope will deter criminals from coming to the island in the first place.
The Longboat Key Police Department has purchased and installed cameras on both ends of the island that connect with global databases. A midisland set of cameras is coming soon. These cameras capture images of licence plates and offer officers a means of determining if a vehicle registered to a known criminal suspect enters the island.
These new cameras replace devices that have been stationed at either end of the island for five years — technology that Police Chief Pete Cumming said would fail due to age and obsolescence.
Still, though, police have regularly spotted cars with expired tags with the cameras, and they played a role in the investigation of a double-homicide in August 2017 at the Zota Beach Resort.
“[These new cameras] take us into a new stratosphere on this thing,” Cumming said. “It’s a force multiplier that’s massively expanded.”
The technology, which included six new cameras (two for either end of the island and two to monitor midisland traffic) and new laptops for police cruisers, cost the department $234,216, a price paid for by a private donation to the department.
Cumming said even without the donation for the system, he would have sought commission approval to purchase some with tax dollars. But the donation gave the department latitude to get the “Cadillac version” of technology the town has employed for half a decade, Cumming said.
“The town deserves the best,” Cumming said. “This is a better crime prevention tool than anything.”
So what makes this technology “the best?” It’s not the cameras — they’re not much different than the ones that had been functioning on the island since 2013, though they are built sleeker and are less noticeable. Instead of a large cylinder, the new technology is more oblong, and smaller.
The devices capture images of license plates and use that information to alert officers if that vehicle is wanted in connection with a crime. Additionally, they can alert officers to cars with overdue registration renewals or car owners with expired licenses.
What’s different is the information available to the department with this new technology. The data collected by Longboat Key’s cameras is transmitted to a global database of information amassed from cameras across the country.
What does that mean? It may be best explained through a hypothetical: Say an individual is wanted by the Longboat Key Police Department for grand theft auto and law enforcement knows the individual drives a black Honda Civic with the license plate ABC-123.
The department can enter that information into the Vigilant Solution database — a cloud network that Longboat cameras connect to — and send an alert to all other agencies who use the system that they are looking for this individual.
If that vehicle is captured by any other cameras in Tampa — the technology has been installed in counties across Florida — a department will be notified the vehicle belongs to a suspect, potentially leading to an arrest.
It works the other way too: If that same black Honda Civic belonged to someone suspected to have committed a crime elsewhere and drives onto Longboat Key, island police will be notified by text, email or an in-car notification system that a suspected criminal is on the island.
“It gives you the ability to access more information than what your cameras in Longboat Key can capture,” said Ryan Barnett, owner of Vetted Security Solutions, a St. Petersburg-based company that installed the cameras on Longboat Key. “The data sharing between all these beach communities is big.”