Florida City Considers License Plate Readers to ID Stolen Cars

Boynton Beach commissioners will vote on the proposal to install 23 of the automated devices throughout the city.

by Aric Chokey, Sun Sentinel / December 20, 2017
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(TNS) — Boynton Beach police could soon be able to tell if a vehicle is stolen in a matter of seconds, under a newly proposed program.

City commissioners will vote Tuesday whether to kick off a program that adds 23 automated license plate readers throughout the city in an effort to crack down on crime, including recovering stolen vehicles.

It’s the second time this year the city is turning to technology to bolster law enforcement — officials restarted a red-light camera program this year that has already netted about 3,000 violators in a matter of weeks.

The same company behind Boynton’s red-light cameras, American Traffic Solutions, is also setting up the license plate readers as part of an overarching deal.

Dubbed an “Automatic License Plate Recognition” system, the readers take a picture of license plates and run them against databases of vehicles of interest by law enforcement agencies in real-time. If a license plate matches a listed vehicle, officers are notified “almost immediately,” according to the city.

Other South Florida cities such as Hollywood, Coral Springs, Delray Beach and Boca Raton also use the technology.

But the readers aren’t entirely new to Boynton. The city’s police department already has two.

Arizona-based ATS said the additional readers wouldn’t come with a cost to Boynton. But the city would have to pick up the tab for any utility poles that need to be installed to mount the readers as well as storage of the data.

The deal also requires that the program last until May 14, 2021. Otherwise, it will cost taxpayers $10,000 to get out of the program, according to the deal.

But Commissioner Christina Romelus opposes the readers, saying it’s too long of a contract to be locked into.

“These [readers] are in no way an act of goodwill on ATS’s part,” Romelus said Tuesday. “They’re a way to keep our city tightly clutched in their hands.”

Mayor Steven Grant and Vice Mayor Justin Katz have so far supported the proposal, previously saying it would help law enforcement catch people breaking the law.

Florida law says data from license plate readers can be kept for up to three years even for motorists who not suspected of a crime.

Personal identifying information is currently exempt from public records, but the data is shared among law enforcement agencies.

Like red-light cameras, license plate readers have spurred concern from activist groups about drivers’ privacy.

Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said readers collect too much information on innocent drivers. The EFF is a nonprofit that advocates for digital privacy and free speech.

“By and large they’re collecting information that they don’t need,” Maass said. “That stuff can be very privacy-invsive.”

©2017 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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