PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence officials announced plans Wednesday to more than triple the number of license plate recognition cameras installed around the city.

Mayor Jorge Elorza called a news conference to say they’ll be adding 60 more of these automated cameras over the next 30 days.

The city currently has 25 of cameras which were installed at no cost through a one-year pilot program with Flock Safety, a third-party vendor who owns them. They came online back in September.

The 60 additional cameras are not part of the pilot program, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré. He said the city entered a three-year contract with the vendor at a cost of $160,000 per year.

Officials did not disclose the location of the new cameras.

Watch the full news conference (story continues below)

Elorza also touted how the latest data shows crime in the city is down to “historically low levels,” despite the apparent public perception. He said since 2010, property crime is down 40%, violent crime is down 38%, and the city is on track to have the second-fewest annual shootings. He also noted how the city has seen just eight homicides in 2022, meaning it could end the year in the single digits for the first time since 1972.

Elorza, along with Paré and Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements, credited the reduction in crime to good police work, specifically efforts in getting guns off the streets.

“I’ve been around policing in this city police department a long time. Never in the history of this department have they been down this low,” Clements said.

The license plate readers, according the officials, have been and will continue to be effective in helping them deter and solve crimes. The cameras snap photos of the backs of cars as they pass, which are stored for 30 days. Police can then search the database for a specific plate, or have the system alert them if that plate is detected going forward.

“They are helpful in many felony assault-type cases, shots fired, where we have a description of the vehicle,” Clements explained. “They’ve been helpful in narcotics investigations where we all know in our experience, and you know through your reporting, where there are drugs in mid and large drug-dealing, there are guns.”

“If you’re someone who is engaged in serious crime here in the city of Providence – with these license plate readers, your chances of being caught have just skyrocketed,” Elorza added.

But with the technology comes privacy concerns raised by members of the city council and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island.

The ACLU released a statement Wednesday further expressing those concerns and noting how the recently installed cameras have little bearing on crime data dating back 12 years.

“The Providence Police Department’s plan to imminently triple the number of Flock Safety surveillance cameras in the city only compounds the intrusiveness of the technology and the clear dangers to civil liberties it represents. With Mayor Elorza’s statements today that crime in Providence is at historically low levels – for reasons totally unrelated to the use of these cameras – it makes little sense to drastically expand a system of surveillance that many community members, community organizations, and even city council members have expressed opposition to or concerns about. 

“Especially in light of the crime data trumpeted by city officials, there is no justification for promoting a technology that places reams of data about all drivers in the city – with no meaningful limitations on its use – in the hands of a private company which has no legal obligation to responsibly maintain or use this information.

“Indiscriminate and far-reaching surveillance efforts promote a police state, not community safety. We denounce the increase of this surveillance technology and urge the city to instead invest in robust housing, educational, and economic supports, all of which promote public safety and trust in the community rather than suspicion.”