ONTARIO — A police department 150 miles away from the Walker Lake Road Best Buy apprehended a driver suspected to be connected with a local robbery, just about five hours after the incident.

Lieutenant Tony Grimwood said this was thanks to Flock Safety technology.

“Without the Flock cameras or a license plate, we’d just be looking for a similar car, and that’s a near-impossible task when they were found in Detroit,” he said.

Detroit police apprehended the suspect who was driving a Ford Fusion with a Michigan license plate hours after the car was spotted by Flock cameras.

Grimwood said there have been three recent Best Buy robberies including the Ontario location and stores in northern Ohio and Indiana.

“I can confirm those are connected, and we’re working to identify all the suspects before we move forward with formal charges,” he said.

The Ontario Police Department has an open investigation into the case. No injuries were reported after the robbery, which occurred at 5:38 p.m. May 12.

Grimwood said five people were involved in the robbery — a driver and four other men. He said the suspects requested multiple Apple products and asked an employee to print a receipt while one of the suspects exposed a handgun while exiting the store.

Employees reported three stolen iPad Pros, one Macbook Pro and one Macbook Air. 

By the time Detroit police apprehended the driver at 2 a.m. May 13, the other three suspects had left the vehicle but the driver identified the others involved and confessed to the crime.

The $6,595 worth of merchandise has not been recovered. The Ford Fusion has been towed in Michigan.

Grimwood said Ontario police have worked with other departments on a variety of cases before Flock cameras were installed earlier this year.

“The difference is our 22 Flock cameras are constantly monitoring traffic and helping solve crimes — and they don’t need lunch breaks or get tired like our officers do,” he said.

Ontario officers entered a description of the vehicle used in the Best Buy robbery into the Flock system after the robbery was reported, including the license plate number.

flock file

Flock Safety’s chief spokesperson Holly Beilin said the Atlanta-based company works with 2,000 law enforcement agencies across the country to help solve hundreds of crimes every day.

Law enforcement agencies can enter search parameters for vehicle characteristics traveling within a certain time into the Flock system. Beilin noted officers need “search justification” related to crimes and not insurance violations.

“We take privacy very seriously,” she said.

The automated license plate reader technology cameras are motion-activated and set up to capture license plates, bumper stickers and situational sounds. They cannot monitor speed, the location of passersby or characteristics of people driving the vehicles.

Beilin said all footage from the Flock system is deleted after 30 days on a rotating basis. Law enforcement may download footage to use in investigations for as long as they need.

“This tech is helping to reinforce objective evidence in policing,” Beilin said. “Eye witnesses and police can be biased or misremember situations, but these cameras help pull factual evidence.”

Flock Safety was founded in 2017 to leverage technology to “make our communities safer, healthier, and happier places to live and work,” according to its website.

In its six years of operation, Beilin said Flock has helped solve a number of stolen vehicle cases, robberies, missing persons cases and other crimes.

“We’re used for almost any type of crime involving a vehicle,” she said. “Our cameras alert local law enforcement if license plates registered in the FBI National Crime Information Center Database, stolen vehicles or missing persons databases drive through their communities.”

Beilin said some schools, neighborhood organizations and hotels also use Flock cameras to monitor perimeter security. There are 150 total organizations in the state of Ohio that have implemented Flock cameras.

Ball State journalism alumna. Passionate about sharing stories, making good coffee and finding new podcasts. You can reach me at grace@richlandsource.com.

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