Dallas Police plan to have automatic license plate readers on the streets in a couple of months. The newest technology would cast a wide net in search of criminals and that concerns civil liberties groups.
Some of the license plate readers will be on police cars. Others will be in fixed locations, like utility poles. Police Chief David Brown says the thousands of license plate numbers captured by the cameras would be fed into a database and checked for a match to suspected criminal activity.
“That hit flashes in the officers’ computer in their car, that person is wanted for murder, or wanted for kidnapping," Brown told city council members. "Our intelligence center is alerted and officers nearby can be told.”
The chief expects this technology to enable police to get more of the serious criminals off the streets.
But license numbers and locations of law-abiding citizens are also captured. Dotty Griffith, with the ACLU of Texas sees a privacy issue.
“There needs to be strict guidelines that define how this is used for law enforcement purposes within very specific parameters," Griffith said. "It shouldn’t just be big brother watching you all day all the time just in case you do something wrong in the future.”
Chief Brown told city council members there will be strict regulations on use of the readers, and regular audits. They’ll be used on public streets only, no private property. And, the data collected will be purged every 90 days.
Council member Vonceil Jones Hill says she’s sensitive to people who have privacy concerns.
“But I think this is a balancing test, where you balance the privacy concern against the value to the entire city," Jones said.
Operating guidelines will be posted online for all citizens to see before license plate readers hit the streets. Twenty-eight are scheduled to be up and running this spring in the city’s top 10 high crime areas.
Cost of the first license plate readers is about $750,000. The Police Department hopes to have 140 of them at an estimated cost of $2.5 million.