License plate reading cameras raise red flags

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - Cameras are snapping photos of license plates and vehicles faster than we ever thought possible, and the special cameras are being used by more police agencies than most probably realize.  

As part of a pilot program, one Lee's Summit Police Department patrol car is equipped with three high-tech cameras called plate readers.

"It sees it, and I haven't seen it yet," explained Lee's Summit Police Captain Kevin Reaves.

The police department said the high tech cameras, which are mounted on three corners of the car, take photos 360 degrees around every plate it reads -- day and night. That data is then compared to a national hot list, which includes sex offenders and suspects with outstanding warrants.  

Lee's Summit Police Chief Joe Piccinini said it sounds an alarm if there's a hit.

"This can run 15 or 20 license plates probably in a second," Piccinini said. "Anything that we would enter into our current criminal justice data base, we enter into this data base, and this system scans it automatically."

Piccinini said the system only saves the license plate number and a photo of the car. He said no names or personal information is saved.

But as of now, the picture of every plate scanned is saved, which is not sitting well with Lee's Summit councilman Derek Holland.

"99 percent -- probably more -- of the people whose license plate will be stored are law abiding citizens," he said. "We've learned through history that if data is stored, it's someday going to be misused."

He, along with other community members, are concerned about the direction of the technology.

"In the future we will have this on every vehicle in the city and someday they will be on stationary poles," said Holland.

So last night, some city council members proposed keeping the cameras, but not storing the data. A group of civilians would review it on a regular basis.

The full city council is slated to vote on the matter in July.

Piccinini said if it gets a vote of support, he intends to purchase the cameras for the department.

So far the cameras have been on a free trial. If they are purchased, it will cost $25,000.

Kansas City Police and Blue Springs police are also using the cameras.

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