Officials from local police and sheriff’s departments say they are not among law enforcement agencies now using automatic readers to collect data from the license plates of motorists their officers encounter.
As Press staff writer Becky Campbell reported earlier this month, only the Tennessee Highway Patrol in this region has vehicles equipped with the technology. Dalya Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety, told Campbell the THP “has 48 mobile license plate readers in patrol units across the state.”
She also said THP has used the technology since 2010. There are five patrol units in the Fall Branch District, which includes Washington and Sullivan counties, that employ the equipment.
THP officials say the readers have helped them to catch wanted criminals.
“State troopers have arrested more than 30 wanted persons, recovered approximately 40 stolen vehicles and arrested or cited almost 200 offenders of driving on a revoked or suspended license with the LPR technology,” Qualls said.
The Johnson City Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Kingsport Police Department and Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office all said they do not use the equipment. Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois said the cost of equipment — about $20,000 per reader — is one reason local law enforcement is not using the technology.
“We looked at it, but we just wondered if it was worth the investment of money to actually have it,” Sirois said.
The American Civil Liberties Union released a study this month that found an increasing number of law enforcement agencies are gathering data from license plates by using automatic reader technology. ACLU officials say Americans should be concerned that the rules for collecting such data and the policies for protecting a driver’s privacy vary greatly from state to state.
They warn in the recent report that “enormous databases of motorists’ location information are being created” that could allow law enforcement agencies “to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives.”
We want to hear from you. Do you think law enforcement officials have a right to employ technology that automatically collects information from your vehicle’s license plate?
Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.