Police agencies around Vermont have largely stopped using automated license plate readers, according to an annual state report.
The small cameras scan passing license plate numbers and store the data, time and location while an in-car computer runs each license against a “hot list” of plates, The Burlington Free Press reported. Some saw the technology as a way to help solve crime while others view it as an invasion of privacy.
The Vermont Intelligence Center’s annual report to the state Legislature says that there were 69 police agencies using units across the state in 2017. By the end of 2018, just four agencies were continuing to use the readers: Essex police, the Essex County Sheriff, Winooski police and the Franklin County Sheriff, according to the center.
American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont staff attorney Lia Ernst, who raised concerns about the devices, said she is “heartened to see that they’ve fallen into disuse.”
The police department in Milton, which generated nearly half of the 682,151 scans stored in the state database last year, stopped using its two readers in early November 2018. One of the equipped cars was in a crash and the department did not want to spend money to move the unit to another vehicle, Chief Steven Laroche said. Another expense is that both needed software upgrade, he said. The scans led to three arrests or citations, for driving with a criminally suspended license and two violations of conditions.
Laroche said he would be interested in using them again if the town could find the money.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said the readers have been key in resolving several murders in the past few years.
A network of stationary readers near the Mexican border with California helped find the four people accused of beating a man to death at a Burlington homeless encampment in 2016, he said. But Burlington does not have a web of stationary readers and the smaller database is less useful in investigations, he said.
“We don’t collect enough data to help solve serious crimes without luck,” he said.