Local police using new technology to track license plates - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Local police using new technology to track license plates

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Is it cutting edge or creepy?

A new technology is letting some local police departments run hundreds of license plates every minute. Officers say it's revolutionizing police work, but privacy advocates are worried about what cops are doing with all that data.

They're called Automatic License Plate Readers, or ALPRs. Lemont Police are among the local departments using the technology.

"It takes away from all the guessing, and running plates manually," said Lemont Officer Tony Camardo.

Every time one of the ALPR devices sees a license plate, it takes a picture, and runs it against a hot list of stolen cars, stolen plates, and cars involved in an Amber Alert or other crimes. The devices can handle hundreds of plates a minute.

"It's probably one of the best systems I've seen because it picks up, you know, the suspended drivers, the plates, you get warrant information of the plates, and it leads to some really good arrests," Camardo said.

The technology is spreading fast throughout police departments. Chicago has 31 vehicles equipped with the readers.

Cook County uses ALPR, too. So do Bellwood, Burbank, Streamwood, and Hanover Park. But with the growing use, there's also growing debate over what do to with all that data.

"It's a large number of license plates of people, who have done nothing more sinister, than being at a particular place, at a particular time," said Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union.

FOX 32 filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with police departments across Illinois, asking how long police are keeping the data. In some departments, like Lemont, the information is wiped clean from the computer after every shift.

But in others, like Burbank, police are slowly building a database of every license plate its machines see--every location, every date, and every minute--whether someone's at work, at a doctor's appointment, or at a bar, there's a record.

Burbank's ALPR readers went live in January 2012, and since then police have gathered more than 622,000 license plate reads.

"It's a wealth of data, and we're hoping to expand it," said Burbank Division Chief Joe Ford. "There are many different uses for it. It doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to catch the bad guy, it's just another tool that we use that can enhance our ability to solve these crimes."

The ACLU wants to see the ALPR data wiped clean after every shift.

"That kind of intrusion into people's lives, that following and tracking them for no particular reason is just something that I think not only offends our conscience in many ways, you know it's creepy," Yohnka said.

Chicago's Office of Emergency Management has yet to respond to our request for records on what its doing with the ALPR data. Bellwood hasn't responded, either. Some departments, like Streamwood and Hanover Park, are only using the technology during amber alerts.

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