Click, you’re it

It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday as you cruise your patrol car through the parking lot of a strip mall. A small national chain store and several novelty shops offer sales to entice clientele, and the almost full parking lot shows the ads worked...

“Every now and then, we think there’s going to be some roadblock by a member of the public or organization but nothing comes from it,” says Bryan Sturgill, sales application special with PIPS Technology. “It’s a machine that captures a license plate and reads the license plate. It does not capture any personal information. If there is a match, it doesn’t retain any information on an individual. It’s not looking up their date of birth or past criminal history.” Most of the debate centers on the use and storage of the data collected by the ALPR. Recently, advocates and users of ALPR held their breath as the issue went before the 124th Maine State Legislature.


LD 1561

LD 1561, when presented to the legislature with backing from the Maine Civil Liberties Union (MCLU), prohibited the use of ALPR within the state for any reason by any agency. Obviously this was problematic to South Portland PD, as well as law enforcement agencies throughout the country. After arguments on both sides were heard, the legislation passed but allowed for excepted uses, including “any state, county or municipal law enforcement agency when providing public safety, conducting criminal investigations and ensuring compliance with local, state and federal laws”. Maine legislature saw the value in allowing law enforcement to continue using ALPR technology. In response to this, South Portland designed their comprehensive SOP.   

“We used IACP and their work,” Clark explains. “We talked to a lot of other states and agencies that have policies on it and met with the MCLU to discuss the privacy issues before we implemented it. Once it was being implemented, we shared our policy with the public and the legislative committee, and educated people on what it does and more important, what it does not do.” Clark, along with Chief Edward Googins, currently sits on a work group arising from LD 1561. “The more word we got out the more comfortable people were,” Clark says. “Our message was this essentially allows us to do something we have always been able to do but now we can do it differently.” When officers are trained to use the technology, they are also trained on privacy requirements and legal use of the equipment and data. “The piece of it that is most problematic is the retention period,” states Clark. “It only allows retention for 21 days. This is problematic because, as we’ve seen, historical data has been accessed to solve serial type crimes and offenses.”

ALPR technology continues to evolve. Cameras are now able to translate painted-on images and decipher the myriad of plates utilized across the country regardless of color or graphics. Future uses of ALPR will continue to grow as law enforcement dream of new ways to use the technology. “It’s all driven by what value to a company or a police force or parking enforcement, a license plate might be worth,” says Pinzler. “We read plates and we match them up to databases and put them into searching criteria, so it’s really up to the imagination of the ultimate user how this might be used.” As privacy concerns are dispelled and agencies work with citizens to explain and collaborate on how the technology is used, ALPR technology will continue to grow and assist law enforcement both in patrol and investigations. Sturgill sums it up, “This technology compliments law enforcement efforts.”

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