IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Fort Worth, Texas, Police Get 600 More License Plate Readers

Police in Fort Worth, Texas, will receive 600 new license plate readers from company Axon as part of a $74 million contract. A City Council member is concerned that the tech could be used against non-violent offenders.

(TNS) — The Fort Worth police are getting 600 automatic license plate readers as part of a 12-year $74 million package of equipment from technology company Axon.

The readers will be used to police crimes at or above the level of a Class B misdemeanors, Police Chief Neil Noakes told the council Tuesday. These crimes could be kidnappings, robberies or assaults.

However, District 8 Council Member Chris Nettles raised concerns about some of the other crimes considered class B misdemeanors that aren't necessarily violent offenses. He mentioned specifically theft of items valued between $100 and $750.

"When you talk about $100, you may have a family in my neighborhood who can't afford formula or diapers and they go to Walmart and steal it," Nettles said.

He wanted to make sure officers had the discretion to know some of the people they're arresting are just experiencing hard times, and not necessarily a violent threat to the community.

It's not clear how this new crop of readers will be used, but license plate readers from public safety technology company Flock Safety have been used in the Las Vegas Trail neighborhood as part of an overall plan to fight violent crime.

The area saw a 22% drop in violent crime between 2019 and 2021, which a department spokesperson attributed to the combination of new technology and community outreach in an October 2021 email.

Noakes made sure to stress the new license plate readers will not be used for immigration enforcement.

"We are not using it to become an arm of the federal government to enforce immigration policies. That's critical to understand," he said.

The office of the police oversight monitor recommended the department create rules for use of its license plate cameras and enforceable consequences for officers who violate them.

Noakes told an April 19 work session he would have a policy for the license plate cameras in time for Tuesday's vote. However, the department did not respond to a request seeking more information about that policy.

Police departments across the country have come under scrutiny for how their license plate camera data is used by federal immigration enforcement.

About 9,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had access to a database containing six billion license plates compiled by security technology company Vigilant Solutions, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in March 2019.

A version of Fort Worth's policy was shared with members of the city council Monday afternoon, council member Elizabeth Beck said. It addressed her concerns about the possibility of license plate camera data being used for immigration enforcement.

Beck noted the technology gives the department the option to flag only license plates for only certain kinds of crimes, and that it's the city's policy not to flag immigration violations.

"If we don't flag it, we can't track it and there's nothing to share with other agencies," Beck said.

©2022 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.