AI-enhanced camera technology helps solve murder in Missouri

ByBetsy Webster, CNNWire
Monday, April 29, 2024
AI-enhanced camera technology helps solve murder
A Flock Safety camera enhanced with artificial intelligence technology helped solve a murder in Blue Springs, Missouri.

BLUE SPRINGS, Miss. -- A shooting that killed two people at a Blue Springs park earlier this month led to a first-degree murder charge and then an arrest on Wednesday, KCTV reported.

Charging documents point to an AI-equipped camera system helping police find the getaway driver, a girl under the age of 18. The camera network comes from an Atlanta-based company called Flock Safety. You could think of it as a smarter version of a license plate reader.

Until recently, most police agencies with license plate readers had them on patrol cars. The Blue Springs Police Department still has four patrol cars equipped with them. The Flock cameras are instead stationed at high-traffic intersections and frequently visited places like park. They have about two dozen of them. The Flock cameras can capture more areas, can do so 24/7, and they can read much more than license plates.

Capt. Kyle Flowers, the investigations captain for the department, said they've had the network for approximately one year now.

"It's super helpful. We use it constantly during our investigations," Flowers said.

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Marquis Earl-Lee Savannah was arrested Wednesday on a warrant for first-degree murder. The charges filed before his arrest came with a four-page probable cause statement detailing the April 13 shooting shortly after 10:30 p.m. at Wilbur Young Park, near the volleyball courts. There was a fistfight, then a shooting. Police found at least 28 shell casings. At least three people fired and three were hit. One of the shooters, who was also shot, was under the age of 18. Savannah is an adult, as were both men killed.

The first set of cameras that came into play in the investigation were the city-owned cameras. That gave police the order of events. It also showed a car that Savannah got into right after the barrage of gunfire. The camera did not capture a license plate, but it gave police a good description.

That's where the Flock camera system came in. It doesn't require a plate number to search for hits on the camera.

"We can also search by make, model and other characteristics," Flowers explained. "If it has a roof rack, if it has bumper stickers, things like that. It uses AI technology to identify those characteristics of the vehicles."

The cameras take snapshots of passing vehicles, then code them with those descriptors. Investigators can then enter the descriptors and narrow their search based on location and time to get photos of every vehicle that matches. A human analyst then examines the photos for a more precise match that does have a plate number, because the Flock system is trained to capture that. From there, they can put an alert on that vehicle to get a ping when it's spotted.

That's what happened in this case. Court documents show a sergeant used the Flock camera system to identify the sedan shown on the park camera as a specific color, year, make, model bearing a specific license plate. Two days later, another sergeant "received a Flock hit on the Chevy Cruz...."

The patrol sergeant then responded to the area to look for it, spotted it at a car wash nearby and took the driver into custody.

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Investigators can also track a vehicle back in time for up to 30 days with a hot spot map showing areas where it appears frequently. That can be used to determine where a suspect may live. The network extends nationwide among partner agencies.

KCTV5 contacted several other area police agencies to find out which had the same camera network. The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department indicated they do use Flock products. The Overland Park Police Department said they have access to the camera network but do not control it. The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department said it has just started to implement the technology.

As much as the use of the tech may be growing, Blue Springs Police were clear about how they do not use it.

"It's an investigative tool only," said Flowers. "This is not live monitoring. This isn't for traffic citations or red-light tickets. These capture snapshots that are stored for 30 days, and we have to have an investigative reason to search for a vehicle."

A representative with Flock Safety indicated approximately 160 Missouri agencies and 80 Kansas agencies currently partner with them.

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