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Freeport, NY - License Plate Readers A Double-edged Sword For NY Village

Published on: February 7, 2016 02:41 PM
By: AP
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In this Nov. 19, 2015, photo, Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy demonstrates the village’s license plate scanner system at Village Hall in Freeport, N.Y. The new system helped catch a fugitive murder suspect but it also has police spending a lot of time chasing motorists for minor offenses like driving with an expired registration. (AP Photo/Michael Balsamo)In this Nov. 19, 2015, photo, Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy demonstrates the village’s license plate scanner system at Village Hall in Freeport, N.Y. The new system helped catch a fugitive murder suspect but it also has police spending a lot of time chasing motorists for minor offenses like driving with an expired registration. (AP Photo/Michael Balsamo)

Freeport, NY -  When this Long Island village switched on its “ring of steel” last fall, it knew it was getting a potent policing tool. The system of 27 cameras would scan the license plate of every single vehicle that rolled into town. If a wanted criminal drove through, the system would sound an alert. If someone burglarized a house, the data could be mined to see who was on the road at the time.

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Police weren’t prepared, though, for the firehose of less-valuable intelligence generated by the $750,000 system.

Since the scanners went live Nov. 2, they have been triggering an average of 700 alarms a day, mainly about cars on the road with expired or suspended registration stickers. Officers have impounded 500 vehicles. They’ve written more than 2,000 court summonses, mostly for minor violations.

“It is a tremendous amount of workload that has been increased due to this new technology,” said Miguel Bermudez, police chief in the town of Freeport.

Mayor Robert Kennedy dismissed any notion that the system may be diverting the department’s attention from more serious offenses while Bermudez noted that it quickly became clear his 95 officers would be unable to respond to every ping signaling an infraction. After overtime expenses jumped at least 20 percent, the department has lately adjusted its approach, responding only to higher priority alarms.

But the chief is still talking about hiring another six to eight officers who would be dedicated solely to traffic duties and responding to license plate scanner alerts, in part because there have been some major successes.

In January, an officer responding to an alert about a stolen car discovered that the man behind the wheel, Tremain Williams, was wanted for killing a man in Norfolk, Virginia. Police found an M-4 assault rifle in the trunk. Williams has pleaded not guilty; his attorney declined to comment.

In its first 90 days of operation, 15 stolen cars were spotted and returned to their rightful owners.

About two dozen other crime suspects have been arrested, including two men suspected in a series of armed robberies who were in a stolen car as well as a man wanted for allegedly burglarizing local churches.

In this Nov. 19, 2015, photo, police department vehicles are lined up outside of Village Hall in Freeport, N.Y. Each computer-equipped vehicle receives data from license plate scanners positioned around the village. The data influx has increased the department’s workload and has caught the attention of civil libertarians. (AP Photo/Michael Balsamo)In this Nov. 19, 2015, photo, police department vehicles are lined up outside of Village Hall in Freeport, N.Y. Each computer-equipped vehicle receives data from license plate scanners positioned around the village. The data influx has increased the department’s workload and has caught the attention of civil libertarians. (AP Photo/Michael Balsamo)

Kennedy would not say how much money has been generated through the village system, noting that it has only been up and running for about 90 days and it isn’t possible to determine what the cost has been beyond the installation fee.

The use of license plate scanners has been proliferating at law enforcement agencies nationwide.

A 2012 study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group, found that about 7 in 10 law enforcement agencies nationwide have at least some access to the technology.

Some departments mount scanners in patrol cars that capture data as officers drive around town. Others buy access to databases maintained by private companies that mount plate scanning cameras on tow trucks.

Civil liberties advocates have raised some privacy concerns. They say the cameras capture the movements of millions of drivers, regardless of whether they are being investigated by law enforcement.

Freeport’s cameras have the capability of scanning about 2,000 cars per minute. So far, the village system has scanned plates more than 15 million times.

Different states and jurisdiction have different rules about how long collected plate data can be stored and when it may be accessed.

Jason Starr, the Nassau County chapter director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said he is concerned that Freeport has yet to provide detailed information about who has access to the information.

“This is data that can be abused,” he said. “There needs to be really tight measures on who has access to this information.”



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Read Comments (6)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 07, 2016 at 04:31 PM cynic Says:

Just wait until some of the politicians - or police officers - get snared in divorce court and their car locations are used as evidence..

2

 Feb 07, 2016 at 08:30 PM yaakov doe Says:

The revenue generated by the fines and sale of impounded cars should cover the cost. Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear.

3

 Feb 07, 2016 at 11:43 PM lazerx Says:

It is about time the police enter into the digital age of tracking law breakers.
They should prepare a new kind of staff that are computer literate, not just tough guys...

4

 Feb 08, 2016 at 10:11 AM Enough Already Says:

Civil liberties advocates should start concerning themselves with the rights of law abiding drivers to be able to drive with less law breakers on the road. With so many driving with no insurance, no current safety inspections no valid license or registration, the liberal left spends way too much time defending the chronic law breakers who could care less of the threat they pose to others.

5

 Feb 08, 2016 at 12:31 PM Benny Says:

Welcome to new police monitored country!
All this "low abiding commentators" - would you mind if they hang up a camera by your home, office and recreational place doors and take video of all your legal activities?
Anyone can track your movement 24/7, your friend, your boss, your spouse!
Stop freedom abuse!

7

 Feb 09, 2016 at 09:14 AM Enough Already Says:

Reply to #5  
Benny Says:

Welcome to new police monitored country!
All this "low abiding commentators" - would you mind if they hang up a camera by your home, office and recreational place doors and take video of all your legal activities?
Anyone can track your movement 24/7, your friend, your boss, your spouse!
Stop freedom abuse!

I hold to my comments. Considering how many aren't law abiding, I value the idea of getting those bad drivers off the road.
In these trying times, our need to be safe and secure should trump the paranoia about civil rights abuse.

8

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