May 20, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Welcome to Trophy Club, where everyone who drives into town gets their license plate photographed

5 min read

The town of Trophy Club got its strange name because it was supposed to display the trophies of golf legend Ben Hogan. But Hogan pulled out.

Instead, Trophy Club has something else few cities can pull off. The tiny town that straddles the border of Denton and Tarrant counties has every one of its five entrances covered by police cameras photographing the rear license plate of every vehicle that enters.

These nine new Flock Safety cameras, unmarked and in place since December, represent the newest fad in Texas policing. Dallas is spending $820,000 for 80 Flock cameras to be placed around the city, and Fort Worth also has rented dozens.

But unlike Trophy Club, big cities can’t use the cameras to guard every possible entrance because there are hundreds of them. Trophy Club, only 4 square miles, is like a municipal fortress.

Its new cameras, which are unmarked and look like solar panels by the side of the road, are rented for $2,500 a year each. The cameras snap photos of the rear license plate and the rear of the vehicle (but not a driver). The camera data collected also shows the car’s color, make and model, the last visit to town and whether the car is registered to a resident.

Every license plate’s digits are run through a “hotlist” to see if the registered owner of the car may require a quick visit from a nearby officer. Trophy Club police Chief Patrick Arata told The Watchdog in an interview that so far the cameras led his officers to several busts for illegal drugs and guns.

The hotlist is checked for a variety of wanted individuals. Is the vehicle stolen? Wanted in an Amber Alert? Is the car owner sought for outstanding warrants, a sex offender or subject to a protective order? And the system can be used to locate victims of crimes and witnesses, according to Trophy Club’s new policy.

A license plate camera along Trophy Wood Drive by one of the town’s five entrances not far from Trophy Club Town Hall.(Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

Captured plate information can be shared with other police departments. Trophy Club’s policy states it can share with police departments in Fort Worth, Argyle, Grapevine and Northlake. The chief told me how his department recently worked with Dallas police on a stolen-car case, too.

Trophy Club resident Jennifer Olson is leading a fight to rid the town of the cameras. She calls them a violation of privacy and wishes the cameras were identified.

“There are no signs anywhere in Trophy Club,” she says. “These were supposed to be a deterrent, but the police don’t tell anyone they are being surveilled. I have talked to people that knew about the town’s cameras but had no idea where they were. They look like solar panels providing energy.”

She complained to state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, who is a top privacy advocate in the Texas Legislature. He represents a small portion of Trophy Club.

“There’s a book written about this,” he told me. “It’s called 1984. Here, the Ministry of Safety is keeping tabs on people who’ve done nothing wrong. Just because you have access to technology doesn’t mean you should use it to keep tabs on everybody. This is Big Brother government that people worry about.”

Capriglione said he wants to introduce a bill next year. “I’d like to get rid of them entirely,” he said. Short of that, he said he’ll work to demand better cloud storage of collected information to avoid hackers (good luck!). Instead of Flock storing all captured data for 30 days before deletion, he’d like it deleted after one day.

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, would like to end license plate camera readers...
State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, would like to end license plate camera readers used by police in Texas.

Flock spokeswoman Kyndra Farley told me 125 Texas police departments use the cameras, with 60 of them in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. That means half of all cameras in Texas are situated in North Texas. She declined to release a list of Texas users, saying it was up to the departments to disclose or not.

But my research shows that in addition to cities I’ve already named, Mansfield is getting them and Bartonville (in Denton County) already has them. (If you want to know if your city uses them, call your police department and ask.)

About the 80 cameras coming to Dallas, police spokesman Albert Martinez told Dallas Morning News City Hall reporter Everton Bailey Jr., “We look at it as more officers in these locations 24/7 who won’t need to take breaks or time off.”

A row of cars drive past a DART bus stop in Far East Dallas in February 2022.

The cameras won’t help catch speeders or red-light runners. Red-light cameras were made illegal in Texas because real people were not involved in the ticket-writing process. Here, officers are alerted to a match and can go search for the vehicle.

Trophy Club police set up a “transparency portal” on the police website with the latest statistics. In the past 30 days, 160,000 different vehicles entered the town, causing 56 “hotlist hits” that resulted in 19 searches for vehicles in question.

Activist Olson said she wants to launch a campaign to get government leaders to rid the town of the cameras.

Chief Arata told me, “I appreciate her work on this and holding us accountable. We encourage people to have a look behind the curtain. We’re willing to pull back the curtain and show you. These cameras are a great deterrent. That’s why I appreciate this opportunity for this exposure of Trophy Club to let the world know we have them.”

He insists that as long as he’s chief, the cameras won’t be misused.

Maybe so. But he won’t be chief forever. What about the one after him?

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https://www.dallasnews.com/news/watchdog/2022/04/01/welcome-to-trophy-club-where-everyone-who-drives-into-town-gets-their-license-plate-photographed/