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Brookline Selectmen Decline ALPR Grant, ALPR May Still Come

Board of Selectmen vote not to accept the state grant for an automated license plate reader, opting instead to consider purchasing one with town funds.

The Board of Selectmen were presented a grant for the purchase of an  (ALPR) in mid-June. Chief of Police Daniel O'Leary explained that it could automate some time-consuming tasks, but there were a number of , as well as from the ACLU. Last night, the Board voted not to accept the $20,460 grant, but ALPR may still come to Brookline with town funds. 

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt explained the vote: "With all due respect, I think that with rejecting the grant, there is a lot more flexibility in it."

Chief O'Leary explained that two things had changed. First, the ACLU had provided feedback on the data retention and use policy drafted by the Town. Second, the company that makes the ALPR system the Chief had presented earlier, informed the Police Department that they are no longer doing business in Massachusetts. To that end, he urged the board to vote no on the grant.

"I don’t want to end this here tonight. I want the Board to give us the OK to seek out a grant on our own terms," O'Leary explained. 

He said that they would research buying other systems, as well as incorporate ACLU feedback on the data retention and use policy draft. Part of the grant, one with which the Board and several citizen commenters had particular trouble, was that the grant allowed information to be taken used by State or Federal agencies, neither of which have a similar policy in place.

Selectman Dick Benka said to O'Leary, "You and the ACLU are really ending up at the same place. Using the tool for specific law enforcement purposes."

Some of the potential uses of this technology which O'Leary has mentioned in the past include locating cars on the tow list, or vehicles which may be connected to crimes. However, the system will still scan all of the cars it passes, and there also some confusion over what information the system keeps. 

Resident Clint Richmond noted, "I still feel there's a lack of information and evidence of success about this system. ALPR is still a new type of equipment, so we should be extra careful about something so new."

Some commenters indicated concerns that the system would also retain location data or similar information, allowing a someone with access to that data to potentially track--or stalk--vehicles and their drivers. O'Leary asserted that the system retains only the vehicle's license plate, and does not identify the owner or driver of the car. Nor, he says, does it retain any other information: just the license plate number.

"We’re not out to violate people’s rights, we’re out to provide public safety." O’Leary went on to say, "Having this available to us, it’s a tool that I’m not going to say no to."

The Board voted unanimously to decline the grant, and unanimously gave approval for Chief O'Leary to research an alternate system for consideration, potentially to be purchased with town funds. 

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