Auburn neighborhoods were well-represented at a recent virtual meet-and-greet with the city's neighborhood specialist and an officer from the Auburn Police Division.
Neighborhood residents were able to introduce themselves to Neighborhood Specialist Allison Blankenship, who wanted to foster better relationships with HOA representatives and neighborhoods in general, while seeking feedback on the best ways to get information into residents' hands.
"I want you to think of me as your point of contact," she said. "I want you to know that you can always come to me.
"One of my goals is to keep you in the loop about projects that may be going on in your neighborhood that you will want to know about."
Sylvia Paul, an HOA board member of the Preserve of Auburn community, said she thought the addition of a neighborhood specialist to the city's communication team was a great idea.
"Understanding what you can and cannot do would be a great resource because one of the expenses that a lot of HOAs have to go through is just attorneys. And being able to have a forum where the different HOAs can talk to each other and be able to exchange information considering things that they might have already gone through, I think, is a great resource," said Paul.
Other residents echoed Paul's sentiments about the role the neighborhood specialist will fill.
Auburn Police Division officer Bud Nesmith also introduced himself at the virtual meeting and shared the long list of services that APD provides for neighborhoods, including the Public Safety Academy, providing house checks for people out of town and making Neighborhood Watch suggestions.
"We'll come to your neighborhood; we'll meet with whoever's in charge of that and we will give suggestions for your area," he said. "A lot of people don't know about the house checks. If somebody wants a house check done, where we'll come out and we will walk your property, we'll check windows, cameras, lighting, and we'll give suggestions. We'll do a written suggestion and we'll send it to you. And anybody can call and request that."
One of the biggest topics that drew residents' interest was the partnership between the city and neighborhoods to use license plate recognition systems to provide another layer of protection. LPRs utilize video cameras and computer algorithms to convert images into usable data.
"The LPR is a new program that we have started, which is a license plate reader," said Nesmith. "If somebody enters your neighborhood, it automatically reads their license plate. If it's a stolen vehicle or if somebody is wanted and it's put into the system, there's an automatic hit that goes straight back to our dispatchers and they automatically send officers to that location."
Nesmith explained that neighborhoods would own the cameras but the APD would be in charge of the LPRs.
"The police department is the one that has access and controls it," he said. "Y'all are not the ones that control it; we do. That's how the LPRs work. They are not going to give the community access to be able to read everybody's license plate and get information. It has to be some criminal activity for us to be able to investigate something like that."
Will Mathews, deputy director of the city's Public Safety Department, touted the effectiveness of LPRs but cautioned against announcing the use of the technology too loudly.
"It is a great tool in our effort to detect, deter and investigate crime in Auburn and the surrounding area. The more that we advertise its use, the more that the criminal element will learn to work around it," he said in an emailed response to questions from the Villager. "We do advertise to the HOAs and businesses that the technology is available to them, and we ask that they partner with us to share that data as an investigative tool if desired. But it is just a higher tech version of a neighborhood watch, where we hope to get good information from the neighborhood residents that participate, but do not want to identify who or where they are."
The use of license plate recognition systems has garnered the attention of state legislators, with Sen. Arthur Orr's SB2 aiming to create a regulatory framework for the use of LPR systems by law enforcement agencies and the data that are collected. Data could be held no longer than five years after being collected, according to the current text of the bill, which passed the Senate overwhelming in February and is currently awaiting consideration in the House.