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ALPR Audit Takeaways: What We Learned About Policy Gaps

As the use of automatic license plate readers grows, Government Technology reviewed public safety agencies’ audits and policies to determine progress.

Under blue skies, an automated license plate reader scans for vehicles.
As the use of automatic license plate reader (ALPR) technology rapidly expands across the country, many public agencies are creating usage policies and stipulating regular audits of how the technology is being used. In some cases, completed audits are highlighting that there’s still work to be done to make sure the technology is used ethically and responsibly.

Government Technology analyzed ALPR policies and audits conducted across the country to compile the following list of observations to show how different agencies are approaching transparency and ethical usage of this emerging technology.


In less than two years, the Lexington, Ky., police department quadrupled its number of Flock Safety automatic license plate reader cameras. The high-resolution cameras use machine learning to capture vehicle movement patterns.

According to the city’s website, the technology has “significantly helped in the recovery of stolen vehicles,” cutting the time victims waited for their vehicles to be recovered by police in nearly half — from more than 10 days to a little over five. The city reports the total value of vehicles recovered with the technology is more than $3.7 million, and that Flock technology has also helped locate missing people and enable the seizure of illegal firearms.

Data from the city’s quarterly audits of the technology show Flock cameras are being used for an increasing number of investigations.

However, according to the audits, how officers are using this tool could use improvement. The city's policy requires that before an officer can access the Flock database, they must document the reason they are searching the system. But quarterly audits of the program mandated by the city’s policy reveal that’s not always happening.

According to one audit, in April 2023, a detective entered “123456” as a reason to access Flock cameras. Further research revealed the search was legitimate and was part of a shooting investigation. In May 2023, a different patrol officer simply entered “investigation” as the reason they were accessing the camera system.

In both incidents, supervisors were contacted to ensure the employees documented detailed information in their future searches. The city’s most recent audit reports that while most officers are providing enough detail about the reason they are searching the ALPR system, compliance issues are still occurring and may warrant further action that “may involve re-training, counseling, discipline and/or system access restriction.”


New Jersey pledged to invest $10 million in ALPR technology to reduce violent crime and vehicle theft through the federal American Rescue Plan Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund program, following a rise in auto thefts.

After the announcement, the attorney general updated the state’s ALPR policies for the first time since 2010. The directive states agencies that use ALPRs are required to establish a policy to govern ALPR use and stored ALPR data, and establish an ALPR coordinator who performs an audit by Jan. 31 of each year.

A state coordinator is required to publicly list the agencies that have completed audits, as well as the number of violations and citizen complaints reported by each agency, by March 31 of each year.

However, on April 15, in an email to Government Technology, a media representative said the public reporting of the audit information is not yet available as the audit report is not complete. No information was given about why the deadline wasn’t met.


A third-party agency, Wildcard, audited the Minneapolis Police Departments’ (MPD) ALPR systems in 2023 to comply with Minnesota State Statute 13.824, exposing potential security lapses.

While users could only access the system from computers directly connected to the city’s network, outdated accounts associated with individuals no longer affiliated with MPD or with those who lacked a current ALPR access requirement were still operational. According to the report, that presented a latent risk of an insider exploiting older, still-active accounts.


Flock, a leading provider of ALPR technology, reports their cameras are in use by more than 3,000 communities across the country. Since 2021, the company has given its customers the option to publish regularly updated transparency portals that share a customizable amount of data about the program.

“We wanted to give cities the option to easily communicate with their residents around our technology — what ALPR does for the community, how they utilize this powerful technology, their policies and procedures, and the ROI they are seeing from their investment in Flock technology,” wrote Holly Beilin, Flock director of communications, in email to Government Technology. “The Transparency Portal is another part of the holistic product you get when you work with Flock — safety as a service, inclusive of hardware, software, service and maintenance." 

The first agency to opt in was the Piedmont Police Department in California. The department’s portal reports the number of cameras the city uses and how many times the system has been searched, even allowing visitors to download a file that lists the reason each search was run in the system.
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.