Caught on camera: FCSO uses traffic footage to solve crimes

The city of Palm Coast and the Flagler County Sheriff's Office have formalized an agreement letting law enforcement officers use the city's traffic cameras for crime fighting.

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This past April, a man robbed someone at a local hotel, then drove around the city stopping his car in the middle of intersections. He'd get out of the car and gesticulate wildly at other drivers, in one instance opening a man's unlocked car door and grabbing the man's phone and a pack of cigarettes.

"We're using these for anything and everything you can think of to help us solve crimes on a daily basis." 


— NIKKI NORTH, supervisor, FCSO Real Time Crime Center

Much of that crime spree was captured on camera — not on surveillance cameras, but on the city of Palm Coast's network of traffic cameras, which the Flagler County Sheriff's Office's Real Time Crime Center uses to solve crimes. 

"We were able to show [deputies] the videos as it was happening," Real Time Crime Center Supervisor Nikki North told Palm Coast City Council members at a Feb. 1 City Couch meeting.

Deputies caught the robber, who was high on narcotics.

North, along with Sheriff Rick Staly and Homeland Security Section Commander Joseph Barile, appeared before the City Council  Feb. 1 to request that the city formalize an agreement allowing FCSO staff access to the traffic cameras' footage and specifying the responsibilities of the city and of the FCSO. 

"Since the crime center was developed about three years ago, the city of Palm Coast traffic cameras have played a vital role in our success," Barile told the council.

The Sheriff's Office's Real Time Crime Center features a screen on which deputies can view traffic camera feeds to track suspects.
The Sheriff's Office's Real Time Crime Center features a screen on which deputies can view traffic camera feeds to track suspects.

The City Council voted for the agreement 5-0 after Staly, Barile and North relayed stories about how the Sheriff's Office uses the footage. 

"We're using these for anything and everything you can think of to help us solve crimes on a daily basis," North said. "So it's been a great partnership to have."

The FCSO's Real Time Crime Center feature a larges screen on which deputies can view the traffic camera footage on a grid, she said. 

"We only utilize them if a crime is occurring," she said. "So we monitor our radio or call screen to see what's coming in. ... We're not just watching it for the sake of watching it."

She gave examples of how the cameras have helped deputies track down suspects.

Recently, she said, a group of criminals came to Palm Coast from Texas. Deputies used traffic camera videos and local businesses' surveillance footage to identify the suspects' vehicle. They also determined that the suspects had stolen a local car. 

Those suspects were ultimately caught in Tallahassee — one of them still wearing an ankle monitor from Texas, Staly said.

"Their whole crime spree unraveled, and I'm sure they're going to enjoy federal prison," Staly said.

In another instance, the FCSO was investigating a series of smash-and-grab car break-ins, one of which occurred at Palm Coast's Waterfront Park, where a thief had broken a car's window and stolen a purse. 

"This is a tool, and it's a very good tool. You know why it is a good tool? Because it doesn't lie."


— EDDIE BRANQUINHO, city councilman

"As the call was coming in, they were able to locate a suspect vehicle," North said. "They were able to track that vehicle on the traffic cameras. And sure enough, as the vehicle is pulling out of Walmart, our deputies were able to set up stop sticks in neighboring areas, and were able to stop-stick them and locate the burglars in that case."

Stop sticks are tire-puncturing devices used by law enforcement officers to stop fleeing vehicles.

Some of the suspects in the smash-and-grab case had multiple warrants from across the East Coast, North said.

Staly noted that the Sheriff's Office has also been working to develop agreements with business owners to use their surveillance footage, when needed. He thanked the City Council for the access the city had already granted the FCSO.

"Cases that were highlighted tonight may not have been solved without that support," he said.

City Councilman Nick Klufas noted that the city of Palm Coast's fiber network provides the backbone for the camera system. 

"It is great that this infrastructure that we as a home brew entity had provided is now empowering our sheriff to be able to provide services and keep the level of community that we expect in Palm Coast," Klufas said. 

City Councilman Eddie Branquinho, a former police detective from New Jersey, supported the proposed agreement with the FCSO.

"I'm glad that we have this partnership. This is a tool, and it's a very good tool," Branquinho said. "You know why it is a good tool? Because it doesn't lie. Whatever it shows, it is — you can't fight this."

He said he was glad that the footage isn't viewed except when needed.

"I'm glad you said that this is strictly for crime use — not for Big Brother watching over you," he said. "That's good to hear."

He added, "What you're asking, it's very little compared to what you do for us."


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