License plate readers are second set of eyes for police

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – It’s called the Mobile Plate Hunter 900 and it’s changing the way officers patrol your community.

The technology consists of two cameras, typically mounted on the back of a cruiser, capture the movements of passing drivers. It snaps two pictures of every car they come in contact with, one of the license plate and one of the car.

The exact location of where the images are captured is also documented, and at the time, cross referenced to a national police database looking for things like warrants or stolen vehicles.

“This kind of plays as a secondary officer, a second set of eyes to assist in helping them,” said David Spradlin, who works for Ohio Homeland Security and manages the License Plate Reader Database in our area.

Spradlin said the technology is so effective, most departments around the Miami Valley have at least one license plate reader, or LPR.

Dayton Police Department owns ten.

“Just within the last month, two stolen vehicles had been recovered with the use of license plate readers just within the City of Dayton,” said Lt. Eric Henderson.

Lt. Henderson said there are many success stories.

In May 2013, investigators were looking for 42 year-old Gerald Duggan who had been identified as the suspect in a string of bank robberies. Duggan’s car was spotted by a license plate reader in New Carlisle and he was captured.

“Everytime this thing drives past a car it’s collecting that data that’s being kept for two years on the region wide database,” added Spradlin. Data, that includes pictures, GPS locations and time stamps.

Since there are no current laws in place regarding license plate reader data, the information is available to the public meaning there’s nothing stopping anyone from checking up on where you’ve been.

“Location monitoring can reveal a lot about a person, whether you frequent a bar or are getting mental or medical health care,” said Adrienne Gavula, Associate Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “Where you go to often. What route you take to work and it starts to be really easy to develop that digital profile of you.”

Gavula said plate readers are essentially police surveillance on innocent drivers. “If I haven’t done anything wrong then you shouldn’t be monitoring where I am going and what I am doing.”

It’s an argument law enforcement officers understand, but said sacrificing privacy is a small price to pay.

“People are always going to look at the negative side of everything and the data that’s being collected. I understand that completely, but you also have to look at the positive side,” added Spradlin. “Amber Alerts, if you had someone missing, wouldn’t you want law enforcement to use every tool available to locate that child?”

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