Chief of Police Daniel O'Leary asked the Board of Selectmen to approve a grant the Police Department has been offered to install an Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) system in one of their cruisers, saying it "Allows an officer to work more efficiently."
The ALPR uses a low-mounted infra-red camera and optical character recognition technology to photograph and read the number plates on vehicles it passes. The license number is fed into a computer, which compares it to a "hot list," updated daily, and alerts the operator when it "sees" a car on that list. The device records all of the vehicles it identifies for later analysis.
O'Leary explained, "If there are a hundred cars on the street, it would record those hundred cars."
The hot list could contain numbers related to something like Amber alerts, stolen or wanted vehicles, or those listed for towing due to unpaid parking tickets. The system could also be used to keep an eye out for criminal activity, for example a vehicle seen in an area where a number of break-ins was reported could be connected and identified.
The system is not automated, and an officer driving the cruiser equipped with this technology will still need confirmation before he or she could pull over an identified car. This is in part to confirm, and also because the system may not be able to identify out-of-state plates.
The confirmation is also one of part of a packet of guidelines that O'Leary and Town Counsel Patricia Correa have drafted for this system's use. In order to protect privacy, a transparent and firm set of rules have to be established before the Police can use an ALPR system.
What troubled the Board--and the ACLU at an Arizona conference O'Leary referenced--was the way the device stores that list. The device stores a list of any car that it sees for 30 days. In the name of transparency, as with the CIMS Cameras, the information it pulls is also a matter of Public Record.
The Board's main concern is whether or not it could be used by someone stalking another person.
“The only thing in this particular system records is the license plate.” O'Leary noted, “If you don’t know the license plate of the target, it wouldn’t get you anything... It can’t tie a plate to any user.”
O'Leary did acknowledge that, if a person--even a stalker--could provide enough reason for a public record request, they could get the GPS location, date and time when a certain vehicle was located.
DeWitt summarized the Board's comments, "if this could be useful to a predator, we don’t want it."
Benka added, "It doesn’t warrant a line in the sand, but it does warrant further discussion."
To that end, the conversation will be picked up at next week's meeting, where public comments will be heard about the proposed guidelines for use and the use of an ALPR system. If approved, the system would not begin use until mid-July, O'Leary estimated.