DALLAS — The Dallas City Council moved forward Wednesday with the purchase of software and cameras that can read vehicle license plates and transmit data to the Dallas Police Department.
Fort Worth, Grapevine and Arlington already use the cameras. The Dallas decision, however, was not without controversy and concern over the privacy of law-abiding drivers, whose license plates will be scanned and then retained by police.
The Council approved spending $3.2 million with vendor Iron Sky to provide software and cameras for 14 fixed locations around Dallas and 14 police patrol cars initially, with the order potentially up to 140 cameras over five years.
But Council member Angela Hunt, who cast the lone vote against the decision, said she was "extremely concerned" about police going on a "fishing expedition" of data that the department says it will retain for up to six months of the license plates belonging to drivers not listed in any law enforcement computers.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown admitted that the department is only now drafting a policy regarding how long the information should be use, but he assured Council members that the technology only works when there is a license plate of a suspected vehicle in a law enforcement computer that the camera software will then identify.
Brown said the American Civil Liberties Union has approved police agencies retaining such data for non-suspicious vehicles for three to six months. Brown said data on suspicious or stolen vehicles would be retained indefinitely, or limited perhaps to five years.
Council members Delia Jasso, Jerry Allen and Pauline Medrano joined Hunt in expressing some concern about privacy matters and the retention of license plate data by police.
But a City Council majority sided with Mayor Mike Rawlings, who pushed for a vote Wednesday. Rawlings said that technology is "powerful, but also a terrible responsibility" that police must accept. He added that police must "use power in a thoughtful and disciplined manner."
With Brown's assurance that the technology would not be abused, the Council approved the purchase. However, a committee will review how long the data on law-abiding drivers should be retained and then the full Council will have to vote on that policy.
Police hope to get the cameras and software operating by April.