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Tennessee City Considers License Plate Scanner Rollout

The city of Lebanon is debating whether to deploy a new license plate reader system to better identify stolen vehicles. A system in a neighboring community has shown promising results.

A thief breaking a car window
Shutterstock/Gina Buliga
(TNS) — The city of Lebanon is considering a license plate reader system similar to Mt. Juliet's Guardian Shield in an effort to better protect residents.

Councilor Joey Carmack asked LPD Chief Mike Justice about the program during Tuesday's city council meeting.

Justice said he would like to place the automated license plate readers at entrances into the city, especially off Interstate 40. He told the council about an incident last week where a group of men from Nashville came into Lebanon in a stolen vehicle and were breaking into vehicles at apartment complexes. An officer noticed suspicious activity and police were able to arrest two of the men, but three escaped. Justice said a license plate reader could have alerted on the stolen vehicle as it entered the city and officers could have possibly prevented any crime.

Mt. Juliet's program, which uses 37 cameras in undisclosed locations, began in March 2020, and has been deemed a success. The Mt. Juliet Police Department typically announces several arrests each week from traffic stops initiated after Guardian Shield alerts on a license plate. Typical is a stop from Saturday, where the program alerted officers to a 2000 Honda Accord that was stolen in Nashville on Jan. 12. Officers stopped the vehicle on Mt. Juliet Road near I-40 and arrested a woman wanted in Robertson and Sumner counties. Officers also found suspected heroin and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.

"We've had this technology for about fours years," Justice said, but pointed out the department has mobile readers, not automated ones mounted in fix locations.

"I thinks this would be great for us to do," Carmack said. "I will support it."

Justice said he would be back with more details at a future meeting.

The use of automated license plate readers has been controversial in some locales, primarily over privacy concerns. While state law allows law enforcement agencies to keep the data collected by the readers for 90 days, Mt. Juliet only keeps it for 30 days. MJPD has emphasized that it does not use the readers for traffic law enforcement. The system recognizes plates that are either attached to a hotlist or to investigations in progress. Hotlists are made for vehicles connected to specific crimes like forcible rape, criminal homicide, kidnapping, motor vehicle theft, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, general theft or certain drug offenses.

©2021 The Lebanon Democrat, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.