Dallas police deploy license plate scanners next month

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 7:00 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 25 at 7:33 PM

DALLAS — Dallas police are keeping their eye on you.

The city is ready to implement new technology that scans license plates to let officers find out if you're wanted by the law.

The City Council approved the readers last month.

At the Council's Public Safety Committee, police reported where the stationary cameras will be installed. The 14 cameras will be in ten targeted high-crime areas of Dallas initially.

The other 14 will be mounted on police cars.

Police are excited about these automated license plate readers and hope to get them working by mid-March.

Motorists driving on a Dallas street could have their license plates read by the new technology that pinpoints where there vehicle was at a certain time. Police would retain that information at least temporarily.

"Once you got beyond three months if we hadn't caught the guy," Chief David Brown told Council members. "By then, most of the time it went to a cold case type of feature."

Police say automated license plate readers are great tools for finding stolen or wanted vehicles, but they also read the plates of law-abiding drivers.

On patrol cars — after a plate is scanned — the software searches a database and reports a hit on the officer's computer screen.

That's a big improvement from the time-honored method of taping lists of stolen vehicles on the cruiser's dashboard, requiring the officer to manually make a connection.

Police also plan to mount the plante scanners in stationary locations similar to surveillance cameras — only the license plate cameras will be hidden.

Initially, police indicated they might hold onto the data for six months. But Brown says the plan now is a 90-day retention policy, and that the software will track who in the police department examines that data to prevent snooping.

"We know which officer has made which query to the system, and we can go back and audit to determine if they made those queries for the right reasons," Chief Brown said.

That seemed to ease the privacy concerns among Council members like Delia Jasso.

"Making sure that we're not just giving that information, having anyone have access to that information," she said.

Dallas isn't alone in using the license plate readers. Fort Worth, Grapevine and Arlington police also have deployed the technology.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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