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The Real Deal: How Police Use License Plate Reader Information

Updated: Thursday, April 10 2014, 02:53 PM EDT

ALBANY -  Most local departments have them, license plate readers that are meant to track down stolen cars, uninsured drivers and wanted criminals but just how much information are those readers gathering about the rest of us and who sees it?  That's what the ACLU wants to know, the group is demanding information from departments around the county. 


"These cameras capture up to 1800 plates per minute and we want to know, the public needs to know how law enforcement is collecting the data, how they're storing it and what they're using it for," says Melanie Trimble, the Capital Region Chapter Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.  Each time a plate reader takes a picture, the location, time and date are normally stamped on it.  "The overwhelming majority of the license plates they're capturing are innocent people, there's no need for them to capture and keep that data for any reason," says Trimble. 


Police Departments across the Capital Region were forthcoming with CBS6 about the plate readers, how the information is used and how long it is kept.  In Troy, City police hang on to all data captured for 90 days to see if it can be used in other investigations.  In the City of Schenectady, the information is kept for 30 days before being purged from the system.  In Albany County, most agencies collect the data and forward it on to the Albany County Crime Analysis Center. 


"The only time we use that is if we have somebody who is already identified as a suspect, it's a plate number associated with a suspect as a furtherance of our lead, so it wouldn't identify anybody's location unless they were already a suspect in something else," says Lt. Bob Winn of the Colonie Police Department.  As for the concern about innocent people being tracked, local agencies say these readers simply provide a snapshot of that second, not a history of where we've been.  "It provides yet another tool for us both real-time while the officers are out there as well as an investigative tool... so yes, it has been very beneficial for us," adds Winn. 


Brandy Davis regularly drives through an intersection in Albany where a plate reader is fixed to a light pole.  She's not overly concerned with the fact her plate number has likely been recorded a number of times.  "It's sad that it's kinda an invasion of our privacy just when you're doing your casual daily thing but if it's helpful, I guess it works for police...if you have nothing to hide, then what's the problem?" she says. 

The Real Deal: How Police Use License Plate Reader Information


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