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Building Better Communities with Flock Safety

David Ulevitch, Garrett Langley, and Kevin McMahill

Posted January 17, 2024

Key takeaways

Earn trust through results. Flock Safety has built trust with communities by helping law enforcement solve more crimes quickly and safely.

Community feedback as a cornerstone of product strategy. Flock Safety’s users are its customers. They actively solicit feedback on the toughest crimes to solve from the communities it serves, then build those crimes into its product roadmap.

Provide tools, not takes. Flock Safety trusts its customers to handle local data governance issues, and instead focuses on providing them the tools they need to manage data appropriately. 

AI, drones, and robots are already having an impact. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has a “drones as a first responder” program that keeps officers and citizens safer and allows the department to respond to 911 calls more efficiently. 

Transcript

David Ulevitch: Thank you, Sheriff McMahill and Garrett, for being with us. Let’s just jump right in. One of the best parts of this job is getting emails from you about crimes that you’ve solved, things that you’ve stopped from happening or getting worse. Do you have more stories you can share with us?

Flock Safety’s impact on public safety

Garrett Langley: Yeah, I think there’s 2, maybe, that come to mind. We solve a lot of crime, but most recently in Wake Forest, they rolled out Flock and within their first 24 hours, found 3 stolen cars, a missing child, and 2 automatic firearms on campus, which is alarming because you would think a campus would be safer.

I think the other one was more recent. Earlier this fall out in UCal Berkeley during freshman orientation, 5 individuals with semi-automatic Glocks stole this 18-year-old’s Jeep. Obviously, this was supposed to be the best day of this kid’s life. He’s now going to college, and now he’s had the worst day of his life.

So, criminals don’t care about city boundaries, but for some reason, law enforcement has always had a struggle sharing data. So in this case, when the student called 911, he said, “look, my Jeep’s been stolen. These guys have guns.” The Berkeley PD is able to immediately put that into Flock, and now everyone in the Bay Area has pretty much someone looking out for them.

And within under an hour, that car gets off the highway, and Palo Alto—who’s also a Flock customer—they get an alert. They know there’s 5 individuals with semi-automatic weapons in the car, SWAT team responds, and those people are now in jail. And I think it’s that kind of story that sadly happens every day—thankfully not in your community every day—but those are 2 more recent stories.

David Ulevitch: Thank you. That’s incredible. What I don’t think people know is quite the size and scale of the company today. Can you just give us some highlights of how large Flock Safety is and how big of an impact it’s having?

Garrett Langley: Yeah, we are one of the bigger, better kept secrets, probably. I think if you’re in law enforcement, you know exactly who we are, and you hopefully love us. Sheriff, get us that NPS score. 

Sheriff McMahill: Got my vote. 

Garrett Langley: But we’re live in just over 4,000 cities in America. So that’s almost 70 percent of the population that’s covered by Flock. We solve about 2,200 crimes a day, which is just around 10%— 

Sheriff McMahill: Do you mind if I jump in, please? Let me tell you one story that really resonated with me. I had a shooting at one of my local high schools, a street right out in front of the high school. And you can imagine that, as the sheriff, in any town in the USA, when you have a shooting outside of a high school, it causes you a lot of concern.

Obviously, we’re thinking: active shooter. In this particular case, another piece of our technology, the ShotSpotter technology, was able to detect that over 60 rounds had been fired, and we knew that there were 2 vehicles that had been shooting. Flock had not yet even gone live in Metro, but we had had these cameras deployed out. We just hadn’t flipped a switch to actually turn them on. So my detectives utilizing all the investigative skills that we had, we really had nothing other than to find out that we had 2 cars with multiple people in them and multiple different calibers of weapons being fired out in front of one of our local high schools.

And I was, quite frankly, frustrated as hell because we had no leads, we had nothing to go on, 1 individual had been shot. A lot of times people just get dropped off at a hospital with a gunshot wound and tell us anything about it, so we’re trying to piece all this stuff together. So we got a hold of you all and turned it on, and Flock was able to solve that crime for us before they’d even actually went out and done that.

What I also want to tell you about this is that we’ve created what we call the Real Time Crime Center at Metro. It’s one of the most fascinating things. I’m not a technologist by any stretch of the imagination. But I will tell you that this technology is changing the game. We are going to get to a place, at some point, where it becomes impossible to commit a crime because technology will help us resolve that. When you look at Las Vegas Metro today, we have over a 90 percent clearance rate on all of our homicides for 5 years in a row. You won’t find that anywhere else in the United States of America.

David Ulevitch: That’s in part because of technology and in part because of great detectives and leadership that are actually making this work. But I want you to understand something about that. When you go to other cities like Chicago, as an example, 30 percent of their homicides are resolved. If you believe you can get away with committing the most heinous crime in any of these cities, you are going to continue to commit those crimes. Bad guys know that when you come to Las Vegas, because of our abilities, technology being at the forefront of it, you are going to get caught. There’s a lot of communities in Vegas. It’s not just the Strip. 

Building trust through tech

David Ulevitch: You’ve had a long career as a patrolman, working your way up all the way to undersheriff, and then being elected sheriff. Talk to us a little bit about how you change the way that you lead and encourage your officers to lead both with technology and community engagement. 

Sheriff McMahill: One of the most interesting parts about technology when we first started it, we started off with 1 crime camera and I wasn’t a big believer in it. But like any good leader, when you have people that are very interested in getting something started, you just give them the opportunity to go do it. You know, I had the opportunity to get assigned to the Bolden Area Command, which is West Las Vegas, our predominantly African American part of town. What I learned when I started to work over there… it led in every crime category that you don’t want to lead in: robbery, homicide, sexual assault, gangs. I went over there to understand and realized that I had 13 homicides in the first 6 months, and I had a 0 percent solve rate, and the people in the black community were saying that you don’t really care about us.

We were talking a little bit about this with this Atlanta caper. Communities of color, because the police typically have a very low solve rate in those communities, have a higher level of distrust for the police. And so every opportunity that we’ve had to deploy these technological solutions into their communities, it was met with a very high level of distrust.

We really spent the time educating them, but also one thing that we’re not very good at is really showing them the success, right? We don’t like to celebrate this stuff, but we have to go out there and figure out a different way to talk to our communities about what this technology is doing so they don’t think that we’re spying on them, that they don’t think that we’re utilizing this technology for nefarious purposes.

And once I have done that, I’ve been doing that since 2010. Talking about this technology everywhere I possibly can within our community to groups like yourselves because every piece of that technology is the equivalent of 3 police officers. It can get into places and see things and detect things that, I don’t care how good of a cop you are, you would never be able to see it. So it’s a really exciting piece for me.

David Ulevitch: Your comment on the communities, just as a quick aside, when I first made the very first investment, I actually called my sister, who has dedicated much more of her life to social justice causes. And sometimes she’s a good barometer for me of how I should think about things that I might not think about in my normal frame of mind.

And her initial reaction was like, “Oh no, no, no, no, this is going to be surveillance. Marginalized communities won’t want this.” And so in part of the diligence, we actually called into some of these community leaders and tried to find out, what do people really think? And what they find out is exactly what you said: that actually it makes policing more objective. It makes the solve rate go way up. And in fact, some of the biggest advocates are those community leaders from more marginalized communities. And that was something I didn’t expect, but we now see over and over again. 

How Flock Safety builds its product roadmap

David Ulevitch: And so on that note, Garrett Langley, you’re not just building a company, but you’re building something that gets put into communities and has a huge impact. Talk to us about how that engagement has shaped your roadmap.

Garrett Langley: The underlying shift that’s occurring in law enforcement that the sheriff was alluding to is, historically, they knew what neighborhoods had crime, and so they’d go “fishing.” That was the word they used. They would drive around in those neighborhoods looking for someone doing something wrong. So it’s like, alright, suspicious people, suspicious activity. It’s ripe for prejudice. 

Now, to Sheriff’s point, it’s objective. That car is stolen. That car has a warrant. They don’t really care who’s inside. They’re about to go find out. And it was this interesting shift where now this law enforcement agency was not only more effective: they needed less people, and they were also delivering a more equitable product to their community. Because they could say, “look, we don’t have time to go fish anymore. All we do is wait for the ding in the car that says, ‘hey, there’s a stolen car down the street. Go get him.'” 

And so I think for us, David, one of the things we’ve spent a lot of time on is: we have incredibly blue cities, incredibly red cities. We have purple cities. We’ve got from Berkeley, California, to Dallas, Texas, to Dallas, Georgia, which is a beautiful city. All different political spectrums, but they all have the same desire, which is to be safe, and they want their kids to be safe. And so what we’ve spent a lot of time building is 2 directions.

One is, how do we drive more transparency in law enforcement? Because to the Sheriff’s point, we’ve unfortunately trained law enforcement to be afraid of the media. But the only time the sheriff gets a phone call is when something really, really bad has happened. And where we spend time is trying to coach and encourage chiefs and sheriffs to cover the positive stuff, too. You’re solving so much crime and making such a positive impact, it’s okay to talk about it. And when you have this backbone of transparency and auditing that you know there’s going to be a bad apple, that’s fine. Law enforcement’s not perfect. No one’s perfect. It’s worth it. 

And the second thing we’ve spent a lot of time on is… The sheriff and I will have breakfast, and I’m like, “Sheriff, tell me the top 3 crimes you didn’t solve this year.” That’s what I’m going to go build. Because the data is—as the Sheriff was alluding to—the only way to actually eliminate crime, which is our goal: to solve it. Most humans operate with a Boolean mindset that if I think I’m gonna get away with it, I’m gonna do it, right? If you have kids, you’ve seen this happen in your kids, where they think you’re not looking, so they do something bad. And as soon as they realize that you see everything as a parent, you have eyes in your head. Is it better behavior? 

And so what we have found is the only correlation between a drop in crime is an increase in clearance rate. So the reason why a sheriff runs such a safe city is because he clears his cases. So for us, that’s our kind of overall product strategy is show me a list of crimes that aren’t being solved in a city. And we’ll go build technology to change that. 

Drones as first responders

David Ulevitch: Awesome. Sheriff, what about drones? What role are drones playing in law enforcement? And then actually, if you hold part of your answer, we’re going to talk about where that might go in the future. 

Sheriff McMahill: Yeah. I’m smiling because I just, I always laugh at this stuff. I’ve been doing this job 33 years now and I just never really imagined where we were going to find ourselves. 

And I have to say, building off of what Garrett Langley was talking about, one of the things that really attracted me to the technology is the mindset that I have a duty and a responsibility. I have 6,000 employees. I’m the seventh largest police department in this country. I have 58M visitors and 2.5M permanent residents. I have a responsibility to those officers to keep them safe. 

And so, now this drone piece that enters into it, we started off with drones, we were using them in SWAT operations. Let’s fly a little drone through the door. They got defeated, quite frankly, oftentimes by the bad guy. We get the drone through the door so we could have eyes and ears for my operators because I’m sending human beings through a door with an armed subject. So I need to slow these things down and gather intelligence and do the things that will keep these men and women safe. And so we did all of that. And now, today, as we sit here right now, we have a drone as a first responder program. 

David Ulevitch: Can you explain what DFR—drone as a first responder—means? 

Garrett Langley: Yeah, to me the really simple way to explain it is: humans are very good at a lot of things, but you’ve got to imagine you’ve got a 19-year-old entering into a highly stressful situation.

They’ve got a gun, potentially someone else has a gun. The best thing you can do is de-escalate as fast as possible. It’s much easier to do that from a drone where no one’s life is at risk. I also think the thing that we keep track of on the DFR perspective is, the average response time to a 911 call is inflated due to the number of unnecessary calls of service. Sending a drone is a lot cheaper, it’s a lot faster. So you imagine, Sheriff’s got 6,000 officers. That number sounds really big. How many do you have actually on active patrol at any given time? A third? Half that. So there’s really only 3,000 that are actually serving right now. With a DFR program, the sheriff can effectively double his headcount, triple his headcount from an efficiency [standpoint] by having drones respond first, assess the situation, and then decide: is this nothing and turn off the alert, or does this necessitate a human reaction?

Sheriff McMahill: So we have that piece of it going. We actually just rolled this out now. So we have a number of units that are out there with the drones and they’ll launch and they’re responding to all the high-priority calls for service. A shot’s fired, we’ll be on the other side, park the drone, throw the drone up, they go up, they get real-time intelligence to the first responders. And it’s just an incredible opportunity for us to keep our officers safe, but also reduce the amount of suspects that are going to end up dying because of their own actions. 

The other big part is that we have the responsibility for search and rescue here in Southern Nevada. We fly in our helicopters up in these canyons, where it’s unbelievable how close they actually get with their helicopter blades to these caves. I’m talking literally half an inch and it’s a dangerous, dangerous business to be in, but we have a responsibility to save people’s lives. 

So we deploy those drones with night vision and when it gets dark, and we’re able to locate these victims that are up there in ways without me having to put my officers in dangerous situations. That’s another real great advantage for us as well. 

David Ulevitch: Just to explain a few more details. What’s happening today is being launched from the back of police vehicles. But I think we’re very close to a moment in time where somebody can call 911 and a drone will be automatically dispatched from the roof of a police department to immediately provide eyes on this guy. Is the house on fire? Is it a three alarm fire? Is it a small fire in the kitchen? Immediately, as fire, medic, police are responding. And that kind of situational awareness is unprecedented. And in regions like Las Vegas, it’s great to have a few helicopters, but they can only respond to 1 incident at a time. If you have two copters, maybe 2 at a time, that’s a tiny fraction of the 911 calls you get. And being able to launch a fleet of drones that can cover an area very quickly over a wide area is really going to transform the way we respond and keep both officers safe and communities safer. And that’s very exciting.

Sheriff McMahill: I just have to highlight what you said here. I want you to imagine this. ShotSpotter technology detects a gunshot, somebody being shot in a neighborhood. The drone that’s located on a business launches up overhead within 30 seconds. Back at the real time crime center, an officer’s watching this, providing real time intelligence to those police officers who are now responding to go in to save lives and stop the suspect’s actions.

That is an absolute game changer in my profession. I’m so excited about that part. 

David Ulevitch: That’s true. That doesn’t even need to be a 911 call. 

Sheriff McMahill: It’ll beat 911 every time. 

Data privacy and protection

David Ulevitch: That’s right. With more fidelity. Yeah, it’s really an exciting time, I think, as we introduce these advanced technologies into public safety, and we’ll talk about 911 in just a moment. 

All right, so we talked about community engagement. I mentioned when I first made the first investment, I talked to my sister to get her pulse check, which she told me I was going to be a terrible person. Now, of course, she thinks it’s amazing. But Flock is really—and Garrett Langley, this is really a testament to your leadership as a CEO, because this can go any number of ways as a CEO of a company building cameras with computer vision technology to find stolen vehicles. But you’ve really set the standard in public safety around privacy, protection, community engagement, data that you collect. Can you talk about how that works and how do you answer to people that want to know about the sort of big brother concerns and surveillance state kind of concerns? How do you deal with the people that ask those important questions too? 

Garrett Langley: Yeah, I think there’s just 3 key points. The first is, I think this is a benefit. I’ve probably met with a thousand mayors in the last 5 years, and we have an incredibly rich, diverse country. It’s great. We can be different, but our differences are so small on the spectrum of people’s point of view on the world. We all believe we should be safe, we should believe we have some sense of liberties. 

And I live in one, which is Atlanta, and so the way we think about it is, I don’t set the rules in Austin. And so from a data retention, from a transparency, from an auditing [perspective], the chief has a tough job in Austin. He has 7 days of data retention, and he has to show up every single month and provide an audit of every single search that’s conducted on his system. That’s dramatically different than in Dallas, or in Tulsa, or Oklahoma City, where the chief doesn’t have to do that, and they have a 1-year data retention because that’s what’s appropriate for them. And I’m sure the Sheriff has his own set of rules that he feels is comfortable for his community. Because we don’t have to have the same thing. We should all agree that we feel safe. So the first is, we put the onus on the community to self-manage. Like the city council, the mayor, they were elected. When the sheriff in this case was elected to protect his community, we should give him those tools. 

I think the second thing is, people have this misconceived notion that we are getting closer to precog, or we’re going to predict a crime has happened. We don’t do that as a business. So the way we think about the business is creating a rules engine that allows people whose actual job as a detective, as an asset protection individual, to assess what is suspicious.

I also think it’s important to take a perceptive of: we’ve already given up the traditional sense of privacy because we enjoy having Instagram the Internet. This is actually dramatically less, and we live in a pretty safe world given those tradeoffs.

David Ulevitch: Absolutely. As a follow up, because I think maybe not everyone knows, it’s not just public safety organizations and law enforcement organizations. 

Garrett Langley: If you look at most of our revenue concentration, it’s pretty common that the community is spending more money on Flock than the police department. So if I pull up the Las Vegas map, you’re going to see the Sheriff’s 180 or so cameras, and then you’re going to see all these other dots on the map. And you’re like, oh, that’s the Wynn Hotel. They added 4 cameras to cover their parking lot. The Sheriff has access to those. He’s getting alerts. It’s a symbiotic relationship where the Wynn Hotel is saying, we want to be safe. We know it is your job. We know it is not a reasonable thing to ask you to put these cameras here. And that’s the same for neighborhoods. It’s the same for small business owners. It’s this idea that if we work together, we can be much more powerful and successful. 

How the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department rolls out new technology

David Ulevitch: Sheriff, tell us a little bit about the process you go through to roll out new technology in Las Vegas, both on the officer training side, but also the community engagement process.

Sheriff McMahill: So I think it’s interesting when you talk about privacy, as Garrett Langley mentioned, there really isn’t a whole lot of privacy left in the world that we live in today. And people know that and understand it. What they really care about is whether or not the police department has access to this information. And so, they don’t want us to be J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI building dossiers on people that are not doing anything—and I completely understand that. 

I think it’s really interesting, and I think probably the single most effective way for us was that we engaged all of our critics from the very get go, is: we bring them down to the real-time crime center. We allow them to physically watch what is actually happening with the technologies. Probably the biggest issue we had was along the facial recognition technology piece. We use facial recognition technology, but we only use it as a tool within an investigation, and we only bounce that facial recognition technology off of the jail management system. So booking photos, people that have already been booked for a crime and people understand that a lot better, right? We’re looking at Kevin McMahill as having potentially committed a crime. There’s a picture that looks like Kevin McMahill. We put it in. We verify it, but you can’t utilize that as probable cause and you can’t actively utilize cameras to actually utilize facial recognition technology. 

So groups like the ACLU, NAACP, we’ve just rolled the red carpet out to him to see every piece of technology we have and explain in those investigations, how the technology was utilized to actually help us develop the leads that good gumshoe detectives then have to use to follow up on those pieces. Because they want to start at, it’s not effective and there’s nefarious use for it. Once we get them in and let them see it, then they become our biggest proponents of it. And I don’t have to spend a lot of time convincing anybody afterwards because they’re out doing that. 

AI, robots, and the future of tech in public safety

David Ulevitch: We talked about: what does the future look like for law enforcement backstage from 911 to robotics and RoboCop? What would you want to see if you could ask for anything or things that you’d love to see introduced into your position to keep communities safe? 

Sheriff McMahill: I think the advances in 911 probably right now are the things that excite me the most. I’ll give you 1 example of this. When 1 October happened in the first minute, we had 9,000 911 calls. There’s no call center in the world that can handle 9,000 911 calls. And imagine if you had an emergency aside from the mass shooting—we would have never even got to your call for hours or days, even. So that ability to use AI and technology within that 911 call center to appropriately direct calls, to answer those calls in a timely manner, is a really exciting innovation for me as we move that forward. And I know we’re all continuing to work on it. 

David Ulevitch: And Garrett Langley, any closing remarks on the future roadmap of technology?

Garrett Langley: The thing that I heard a long time ago, I think from someone in this group, was the future is actually already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. So in the case of Flock, our future is that crime is no longer a problem.

My kids are 5 and 3, and I’d like to think that when they’re my age, they’ll be like: wait, so you used to be unsafe? You used to actually have to worry about your personal safety? And the reality is, that’s already happening. We’ve got dozens of agencies that, like the Sheriff, are at a 100 percent clearance rate on violent crime, and they are approaching a 100 percent clearance rate on non violent crime. I want to go live there. 

And I think that’s going to get faster and faster. If you go to a place like Elk Grove, California, for any of y’all in Northern California, the Bay Area, they’re in the future. So in their real time crime centers, they get all their 911 calls. They have our DFR product. So when a 911 call comes in, a gunshot detection, a stolen car, they have strategically placed about a dozen of our drones and docks throughout the city. They can get to any call for service in 30 seconds. Amazing. Imagine the change in quality of life for that community where they know that, no matter what is happening, law enforcement can be there in 30 seconds. And I think that will fundamentally change the way we think about our relationship with law enforcement and our overall quality of life.

David Ulevitch: Awesome. Well, thank you both. Thank you, Sheriff, for all the work that you do and for taking time out of your day to be here. And thank you, Garrett Langley. 

Garrett Langley: Thank you. 

Sheriff McMahill: Thank you.

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