Automatic license plate readers have received a seal of approval from local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors as the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department has installed an ALPR on a third vehicle.
The units cost about $18,000 for two cameras, a laptop computer and a software system. The Sheriffs Department purchased them with grants from the U.S. departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
Its been a great tool for us and certainly a great tool for other law enforcement agencies, said Sheriff John P. Burns.
Derek P. Champagne, Franklin County district attorney, said the readers have helped officers in his county solve everything from murders to vandalism cases.
Were getting unbelievable returns on a small investment, he said.
A recent federal investigation into human trafficking along the U.S.-Canadian border that soon will be brought to trial with the help of automatic license plate readers has validated their effectiveness, according to Mr. Champagne.
Automatic license plate readers have been a boon for the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department since the first was installed in 2006. Readers have picked up thousands of violations over the last few years, according to Sheriff Burns.
Before a sheriffs deputy takes a unit equipped with an automatic license plate reader on patrol, a hot list of suspended or stolen plates is downloaded from a statewide database.
The list does not include expired license plates or inspection violations.
Amber alerts, issued in kidnapping cases, are part of the downloaded information.
According to sheriffs Deputy John M. Gleason, the license plate readers save valuable resources, reducing the demands placed on dispatchers and freeing air time that can be used for more pressing calls.
The two cameras readers use are extremely sensitive and can pick up the license plates of both fast-moving and stationary vehicles by using character recognition software initially developed to help the Postal Service sort mail.
If a violation is detected, the laptop computer mounted in the patrol vehicle will alert the deputy.
Deputies still confirm violations picked up by the plate readers with the dispatcher before pulling anyone over.
Information collected during the patrol is stored locally and shared with other law enforcement agencies.
Its stored on the deputys thumb drive that he has in the patrol car. It also is sent to New York state. We download and we also upload their information, Sheriff Burns said.
The department is also involved in border surveillance.
We do have plate readers that are in the area of the border, Sheriff Burns said. I wont say if theyre permanent or mobile. We do use it certainly in the Thousand Islands Bridge area and the border area. Its a way of tracking vehicles that are coming across and how often theyre coming across and can certainly assist us in any investigations of illegal activity.
Some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, and some privacy experts, including Mark D. Rasch, a former federal prosecutor who is now director of cybersecurity and privacy at Computer Sciences Corp., Falls Church, Va., have some reservations about the technology.
Though most courts have agreed a person has no expectation of privacy when driving on a public road with a state-issued license plate, Every license plate photographed constitutes an incremental loss of privacy, Mr. Rasch said.
According to Mr. Rasch, the practice of unmonitored use of license plate readers opens a Pandoras Box of unanticipated issues, including the creation of large databases that could be used to track civilians with no criminal history.
Left unsecured, these databases can also be subject to hacking just like any other computer network. How this information is collected, how it is used, who uses it, how it is stored and how long it is stored are all legitimate concerns, Mr. Rasch said.